BOOTBF Chapters 6-7

Chapter Six

Darcy left Alton House that evening very much relieved. He had expected vehement objections to his upcoming wedding and was actually quite shocked at the tame acquiescence to its arrangement. He knew that his aunt and uncle were by no means pleased with events, but they had seemingly come to a decision to support him and his Elizabeth, despite their reservations.

In the one day Darcy had been engaged, he had begun to relish the thought of marrying an amazing woman. He also found amusement in imagining the disappointment of certain rapacious society mammas when they learned that one of the most eligible young men in England was no longer on the marriage market. He hoped that they would not hold it against Elizabeth.

The next day, Darcy set about his tasks. First, he met with his solicitor to have a draft of the wedding settlements drawn up. He was still curious as to why Mr. Bennet had refused to discuss Elizabeth’s dowry. He then procured the special license that would permit them to be married on Friday.

There was one task left. Once again, Darcy returned to Afton House, this time in search of his cousin.

“Fitzwilliam, I am delighted that you will be at my wedding. Will you come to Hertfordshire with me tomorrow?”

“No, I have business to complete in London. But my parents will come a few days before the ceremony, and I plan to accompany them. Will Georgiana remain at Netherfield until the wedding?”

“Yes, and I need to speak with you about both my sisters and the days after. It is my intent to bring Elizabeth to Darcy House directly after the wedding. I would like for you to take Beth and her governess to Pemberley. I do not know what Georgiana wishes, but I believe she would prefer to return to London. Perhaps she could travel with your parents and stay at Afton House.”

“If you wish. I will take Beth to Pemberley. When will you journey north?”

“I must consult Elizabeth, but I cannot imagine it will be longer than a fortnight.”

“Very well, let us speak with my parents – After you, cousin.”

~~~>~<~~~

Darcy was pleased to return to Netherfield the next day. He was in possession of the proposed marriage settlements and special license. He told Bingley of the impending arrival of his family and set about the one task he had been putting off: informing Lady Catherine. He knew his cousin Anne would be relieved, but he feared the reaction of his aunt. He had sought his uncle’s advice on the style of letter he should write and had spent considerable time contemplating the subject during his journey from London. At last he felt confident enough to compose a short missive.


Lady Catherine,

It is with great pride that I write to inform you of my upcoming nuptials with Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn. The ceremony will be held Friday next in Hertfordshire, at the Longbourn Church. Lord and Lady Matlock have confirmed their pleasure in accepting the invitation to my wedding. If you wish to share in the joy of this day, your presence is greatly desired as well.

Respectfully,
Fitzwilliam Darcy

When the express arrived at Rosings, Lady Catherine de Bourgh was in the drawing room, with her daughter Anne, Anne’s companion, Mrs. Jenkinson, and her rector, Mr. Collins. A flick of her hand silenced the fatuous flattery of the unctuous clergyman. Recognizing the seal and handwriting, she eagerly opened the letter and began to read. Anne de Bourgh watched in fascination as her mother’s face reflected rapidly changing moods: pleasure, quickly turned to astonishment, then finally anger, as she crumpled the paper in her fist.

The three were astonished when the fourth suddenly strode out of the room, shouting orders in every direction. “Prepare my carriage at once! I must leave for London within the half-hour. I have not an instant to lose!”

Mr. Collins hastily excused himself, but not before offering his deepest concern and wishes that whatever had so greatly distressed his noble patroness would be quickly resolved in a manner favourable to her ladyship — little realizing that his cousin Elizabeth was a central player in the unfolding drama. Anne, meanwhile, dispatched Mrs. Jenkinson to ascertain if her mother required her company on the unexpected journey to London.

Safely alone, Anne retrieved the crumpled paper Lady Catherine had flung away with such disdain, before her mother had a chance to think rationally enough to retrieve it. She flattened the sheet and read its astonishing content with a growing smile of delight.

“Well done, Cousin! I wish you great joy!

~~~>~<~~~

Lord Matlock had rather been expecting his unexpected visitor. Ever since Darcy had announced his engagement, and asked the Earl’s advice on the most prudent method of informing Lady Catherine, Lord Matlock knew his dictatorial sister would soon pay him a visit. And so she had come, apparently in great haste, given the lateness of the hour.

“Hugh! Have you heard the news from Darcy?” Lord Matlock noted the poor condition of the parchment she waved in his general direction, no doubt Darcy’s letter informing her of his engagement.

“Yes, Catherine, Darcy was in town two days ago and informed me himself.”

“And?”

“I expressed my concern, but in the end I accepted the situation and agreed with Darcy’s reasons for his marriage.”

“What!” Lady Catherine nearly screamed. “Why did you not forbid the marriage and stop this nonsense? He is engaged to my daughter!”

The Earl sighed; he too thought his nephew might someday marry Anne, but he also knew that Darcy was neither by honour nor inclination confined to his cousin. Any engagement between the two — indeed, any prospect of an engagement — existed solely in the mind of Lady Catherine.

“Catherine, as much as you desire such a union, William and Anne were never engaged and were never inclined to marry each other. It was always your wish, not theirs.”

“But our sister favoured such a match as well!”

“Our sister never demanded that her son marry Anne, nor forbade him from marrying another. You may have wanted it, and you may believe our sister wanted it, but I am not convinced she spoke to William on the subject at all; he was only ten years old when she died, and Anne was barely eight. William was never under any obligation to marry Anne, no matter how many of his family assumed he would do so. He has always been free to choose.”

“This wedding must be stopped!”

“I spent a great deal of time with Darcy discussing this matter. He told me exactly how his engagement came about. After hearing his reasons for marrying, I knew that nothing I could do or say would change his mind. Besides, it is too late now, Catherine. The match has been sanctioned and blessed by Miss Bennet’s father, who is an honourable and respectable country gentleman. As head of this family, I have given my approval. Helen and I intend to support William and his bride, and we will be present at the wedding. If you wish to remain welcome at Pemberley and Darcy House, I suggest that you do so as well.”

“This is not to be borne!”

“And exactly what can either of us do to break up the match without bringing shame and ridicule on the family?”

“This marriage will do that on its own!”

“We do not know that it will. But any action on our part to prevent this wedding would only bring disaster; there is no other possible consequence. You must see this. Leave Darcy alone, Catherine. As head of our family, I forbid you to interfere. Do I make myself clear?”

“Perfectly.”

~~~>~<~~~

Early the next morning, Lady Allenby received her old friend.

“Margaret, a report of a most alarming nature reached me just yesterday!”

“What is it, Catherine?”

“I received an express from my nephew, my own nephew Darcy, that he will soon be united in marriage with some country nobody by the name of Elizabeth Bennet.”

Lady Allenby was shocked! Whatever had happened in Hertfordshire? Had Wickham failed?

“All of our years of careful planning. Ruined! First Georgiana breaks her engagement to your Henry. And now my Anne has had all her hopes crushed by that, that, that hussy!” Whilst Lady Allenby sympathised with the deep disappointment of her ally, her mind began to consider this new information.

“But is it certain, absolutely certain, that he will marry this Bennet woman?”

“Yes! On Friday! And my brother, the Earl, and his wife will sanction the wedding with their presence! Idiots!”

“Calm down, Catherine. I am not without my sources of information. Let me consult with them and see what is to be done. All may not be lost.” ‘At least not for Henry,’ she added to herself.

As soon as Lady Catherine left, Lady Allenby summoned her Butler.

“Is the Earl at his club?”

“Yes, Lady Allenby.”

“Is Lord Drury with him?”

“No, he is still in his rooms.”

“Please inform Lord Drury that I require his presence.”

“As you wish.”

The viscount eventually obeyed his mother’s summons. “Sit down, Henry. We have much to discuss. I had a most unexpected visitor this morning, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.”

Bored, Drury mechanically answered, “And what news did she bring?”

“Suffer me a little, Henry! I am not wasting your time! Lady Catherine was greatly agitated. Darcy is to be married next week, to some woman he met in Hertfordshire.” Drury was suddenly interested.

“And what has this to do with me?”

“A marriage of such haste, to an unknown woman, reeks of impropriety.”

“I still do not…”

“Henry, do you not see the implications? Do you still wish to marry Georgiana Darcy?”

“I have never denied it.”

“Then perhaps, if scandal threatens her family, she may be receptive to your attentions once again.”

Drury had already reached the same conclusion, but he allowed his mother to believe she had the upper hand.

“I begin to be in agreement.”

“We must know what has happened to bring this about. Did you not say your friend, George Wickham, was stationed in Hertfordshire?”

“Yes.” ‘As you very well know, Mother.’

“Might he be of assistance?”

“I shall write to him and ask.”

“Very good. I expect you at dinner this evening. Your father will be quite put out if you are not. What you do afterwards is your own business.”

“As you wish, Mother.” ‘What I do afterwards is INDEED my own business, Mother.’

~~~>~<~~~

Wickham did not reply to Drury’s letter. Instead, four days later, the captain called at
Haynsworth, the Allenby London residence.

“Captain, you once again find me all alone. The Earl and Lord Drury had business away from Town and will not return until tomorrow.”

“Lady Allenby,” he murmured as he bent over her hand to bestow a kiss. The lady noticed the stiffness of his posture and decided it was time to begin the inquisition. She was not at all angry with him; in fact, she was delighted with what was happening in Hertfordshire. But she was not disposed to share this with him as yet. It was much more satisfying to see him discomforted; she would toy with him a little longer.

“Captain Wickham, my dear friend, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, visited me several days ago, most distressed. She had just been informed that her nephew, Darcy, is soon to be married to an Elizabeth Bennet. Pray tell me how this came about. Did you fail to do as I commanded you? And do not neglect to tell me how it is that you appear to be injured, though you seek to hide it form me.”

“My lady, indeed I did strive to accomplish the task that you placed on me. However, unfortunate events intervened that resulted in my efforts to discredit Miss Elizabeth Bennet being spoilt by Darcy himself. I received your son’s letter and fear of your disapproval impelled me to speak to you in person rather than risk a written communication.”

“You could have come to Town sooner!”

“I beg to differ. A certain undesirable circumstance resulted in my being wounded. I was not fit to travel until yesterday. I came to you as soon as I could.”

“I suppose you had better start at the beginning. Do not lie to me, Captain. I shall discover it eventually if you do.”

“I would not dream of deceiving you. Very well…” Wickham recounted the events leading up to that morning and the subsequent duel. “And I allowed Darcy to end the confrontation by wounding me in the stomach.”

“Very good, Captain. I take it you were convincing in you efforts? No one suspected you allowed him to defeat you?”

“I believe I convinced every one of the people that mattered,” He neglected to tell her of Darcy’s revelations and his subsequent refusal to fight, allowing her to think he had successfully choreographed his own defeat.

“And now what shall you do? I do not believe you will be welcomed back to your regiment.”

“No, Colonel Forster has made his displeasure known. I had been contemplating, before I went into Hertfordshire the first time, of asking for assistance from the Darcy estate to purchase a commission in the Regulars. But I dare not do so now. I had hoped, that your ladyship might be prevailed upon to assist me, even though my mission did not come to completion as planned.”

There, he had said it. If she would not reward him, he was truly at a loss what to do. He would forever remain a captain in the militia if he did not have the help of a benefactor.

Lady Allenby looked at the man before her. She rather liked the scoundrel, but wondered if he had told her the entire truth. She doubted it; something else must have occurred. But it was of little matter. She knew Georgiana Darcy would now be very receptive to Henry’s renewed offer. To finally gain her for a daughter, while seeing Lady Catherine denied the son-in-law she wanted, was too delightful.

“Inquire as to the amount you will need to buy a commission in the Regulars. If it is acceptable, you shall have it. But it comes with a cost.”

“What now, my lady?” Wickham asked warily.

“Come to me tonight, and we shall discuss it.”

“Lady Allenby, my wound, I cannot…”

“Do not make excuses. Come to me tonight, and I will decide of what you are capable.” ‘As if I care for your satisfaction, boy!’

“Yes, my lady.”

~~~>~<~~~

Darcy, having returned to Hertfordshire, was impatient to visit Longbourn. His task of informing his aunt now complete, he was free to call on the Bennets. Bingley had assured him that although all appeared well, it was extremely chaotic. Darcy could only imagine. Mrs. Bennet must be relishing all the frenzied activity.

As soon as his valet released him, Darcy ordered his horse and rode to Longbourn. Darcy would rather have spent time alone with Elizabeth, but he knew he should speak with Mr. Bennet first and relieve himself of the packet of papers he carried. Mr. Bennet was pleased to see the young man and welcomed him warmly.

“Mr. Darcy, you are most welcome back to Longbourn. I trust your business in London was completed to your satisfaction?

“Yes, sir. I have brought with me the proposed marriage agreement. Do you have your part ready, sir?”

“You waste little time, but yes, it is ready. Do you truly wish to discuss it now? Would you not rather greet the rest of the family?”

“As much as that would please me, I believe I would prefer to have this done.”

“Very well, proceed.” Darcy then explained the provisions delineated in the papers. Mr. Bennet made little comment and consented to all the terms… until they came to the final section, regarding Elizabeth’s dowry and the amount that Darcy was prepared to settle on her.

“I believe you are being overly generous, Mr. Darcy.”

“Mr. Bennet, it has been brought to my attention that Miss Elizabeth’s dowry is not large. I intend to make sure she is properly provided for in the event that it is needed.”

“I see, and who informed you of Elizabeth’s dowry?”

“I must confess that it is common knowledge that her portion is small.”

“Hmm. Mr. Darcy, if I may, I would like to offer you some advice.”

“Yes, Mr. Bennet?”

“Do not believe every word of gossip you hear.”

“I do not, but I fail to see your meaning.”

Instead of answering, Mr. Bennet took a stack of papers from his desk and handed them to Darcy.

Darcy glanced at the papers, wondering how Mr. Bennet came to possess HIS business correspondence with Bingley. A closer look revealed that the letters were addressed to a ‘Mr. T. Bennet’. Darcy looked to his host, to the papers, and back to his host again, his mouth open in astonishment.

“You are… T.B.? Of Bingley & Company?”

“Ah, you begin to understand.”

“Then you know, you knew…”

“I met your father on a few occasions, if that is your question.”

“And do you know who the other investors are?”

“Of course, Son.”

Darcy was embarrassed. “I do not. I never bothered to ask Bingley, and my cousin, Fitzwilliam, has managed the estate’s business interests since my father died. It was a detail I did not anticipate needing to know until I gained full control of my inheritance in three years time. Did you invest the same amount as my father?” Mr. Bennet’s smile confirmed the answer. “Then you are wealthier than you appear.”

“Yes. I preferred the relative anonymity of my life here. I saw no need to flaunt my good fortune to the local population.”

“But such disguise could have materially harmed your daughters’ marriage prospects!”

“If it gives you comfort, I was prepared to send them with Robert to Town this season, with instructions to make our true situation known.”

“I… I do not know what to say. Then, what… what is Elizabeth’s dowry?” Mr. Bennet handed him the figures Mr. Phillips had prepared. “I cannot … £ 25,000?”

“In addition to her one-fourth share of the £ 5,000 settled on Mrs. Bennet when we were married, after both of our demises.”

“This is most unexpected, sir.”

“Have a glass of port, Mr. Darcy, you look as though you need it. Now then, whilst I appreciate your generosity in relation to Elizabeth’s supposed lack of dowry, I trust you will agree that it is entirely unnecessary.”

“Nevertheless, I will not alter it. The amount is not the issue; at the heart of the matter is my utmost respect for her and what is due her new position. On this I will brook no opposition. It shall remain as written.”

Mr. Bennet studied Darcy, seeing the young man’s obstinacy, and finding himself quite pleased with it. “Very well, sir. We are in agreement. Let us consider the matter resolved. I am ready to sign the papers as they are now. I notice that your uncle and cousin have also given their consent to the settlement arrangements.”

“As trustees of my estate, it was only proper that I consult them. I trust their judgment. I would never have proceeded this far with the documents without obtaining their approval.”

The business regarding the marriage settlement complete, Darcy brought up the subject of the duel. Although Robert had told his father of the event, Mr. Bennet was anxious to hear it from Darcy’s perspective.

“Mr. Darcy, this is beyond belief! I have not the slightest clue as to who could be behind this.”

“Nor do I. However, I did promise your son that, once I am in possession of Wickham’s information, I will not act until I have consulted him.”

“I am certainly glad to hear that. I for one think we have had quite enough duelling in this family. I would counsel you to use caution. Think of Elizabeth.”

“Your son gave me similar advice. You may put your mind at ease, sir, I will not purposely do anything to pain Elizabeth. She has been through enough already.”

Satisfied that they were of one mind, the two men joined the rest of the family. Darcy was eager for the formalities of address to be completed so he could speak to Elizabeth. Since her confession before he left, he had been concerned for her well-being.

“Will you join us for dinner this evening, Mr, Darcy?” Mrs. Bennet asked.

“I thank you, no. I am expected back at Netherfield. I have not had much opportunity to see my sisters.”

“Then you must promise to dine with us tomorrow. Your sisters are invited as well.”

“I must confer with Miss Darcy first. I will send word. May I be so bold as to ask if Miss Elizabeth would join me for a stroll in the garden?”

“Of course! Robert and Mary will accompany you.”

On their way out, Darcy spoke privately to Robert. “I would like a word with you before I leave, about Elizabeth.”

“I understand.”

Robert led Mary away from Darcy and Elizabeth, to allow the latter two a private conversation.

“I have the license, Elizabeth.”

“My mother has made most of the basic arrangements, and Papa has spoken to the parson.”

“Will my opinions be required?”

“I think it wise, if you have any strong inclinations, that you tell me and leave me to deal with Mama.”

“I trust your judgement.”

She blushed, and was surprised at how pleased she was to hear the compliment.

“Thank you, William. I appreciate your trust in me.”

“I do have one matter to discuss with you, though. I need to make our arrangements for after the wedding.” Again she coloured. “I do not wish to make you uncomfortable. I have given you my assurances…”

“I know, William, it is only that… the thought of being your wife is still overwhelming at times.”

“My cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, will take Beth to Pemberley after the wedding. I have not yet spoken to Georgiana; she will go either to Pemberley or to Town with my uncle and aunt. If it meets with your approval, I should like us to go first to Darcy House, then to Pemberley for Christmas and remain there until we return to London in time for the season. Circumstances have prevented you from purchasing wedding clothes. Two weeks in Town should give you sufficient time to accomplish that, and in any event, you will need warmer clothes for the winter months. Derbyshire is much colder than Longbourn during the winter.”

“That is extremely thoughtful, William. I hope you shall always be as considerate.”

“I will try, though I am certain that I will fail miserably at times, and you will be justly angry with me.”

“And you shall know it when I call you Fitzwilliam!”

“I neglected to tell you that my uncle and aunt, Lord and Lady Matlock, will be coming to Netherfield in a few days for the wedding, as will my cousin, Fitzwilliam. I have asked him to stand up with me, and he has consented.”

“Jane is to stand up with me.”

“I never doubted that she would. You may have expected that Bingley would be performing the honours instead of my cousin.”

“I confess that I did. But you must have a perfectly reasonable explanation for your choice.”

“I do. Allow me to tell you of my cousin …” Darcy told Elizabeth about Richard Fitzwilliam: how he looked to him as very nearly an older brother, how Fitzwilliam had given up his career in the army to manage Pemberley, and how much he had learned from him. He then related the provisions of his father’s will.

“Your cousin will be a part the family party at Pemberley, then?”

“Yes, but he will not interfere with your duties as mistress of the house.”

“But what about Georgiana?”

“She knows her duty. It is all she knows.”

Elizabeth was puzzled by the bitterness she heard in his voice, but decided this was not the time to question him about it.

Darcy suddenly realized just how cold it was and steered Elizabeth back towards the house, where they met up with Mary and Robert. As they went into the house, Darcy afforded himself the opportunity to speak privately with Robert.

“Is Elizabeth sleeping any better?”

“Not much, I am afraid. Jane has taken to sleeping in Elizabeth’s room. Elizabeth appears cheerful, but I am afraid of what will become of her if these dreams do not stop. Please, Darcy, do be careful with her.

“You have my word. Thank you for telling me. I wish there was something more I could do.

“You have done so much, Darcy. You have saved her, and you have saved my family. You will forever have my gratitude.”

~~~>~<~~~

Darcy sought out Georgiana when he returned to Netherfield. This was not a conversation he looked forward to. They had last parted having affected a truce, and Darcy hoped that Georgiana’s pride had not been inflamed during the past two days, to the point where she would become difficult again. But when he entered the room, Georgiana somehow appeared smaller than he ever remembered seeing her. She was troubled; there was no longer any denying the fact.

“Georgiana,” he called to her tenderly.

She turned to look at him and moved to greet him. Darcy drew her into his embrace.

“Oh, William.”

All at once, Georgiana could no longer stem the tears that had threatened to break through ever since she had refused Robert. She quietly wept, while her brother gently held her, stoking her back. Finally, Georgiana was able to regain some semblance of control. Shyly she spoke.

“Thank you, William.”

“Will you now tell me what troubles you so?”

She broke free and walked away from him. Her back still turned, she answered. “I cannot yet speak of it to you. I… I do not wish for it to come between us.”

“But Sister…”

Georgiana turned to face him. “It would only bring us both more pain. When it is time, I shall tell you, but not before.”

Attempting to break the sombre mood, Georgiana asked him to tell her of his trip to London. He spoke of obtaining the license, asking Richard to stand up with him, and of his conference with their uncle.

“They will come for the wedding?”

“Yes, I expect them on Wednesday. Bingley has graciously offered his hospitality to all of our family that may come.”

“And Lady Catherine?”

“I sent her an express, informing her and inviting her as well.”

“I suppose you had little choice. Do you think she will come?”

“Uncle advised me to be prepared for any action on her part. I doubt she would come with any purpose other than to stop the ceremony. That is one thing that I will not allow.”

They both fell silent, each considering the repercussions arising from such a confrontation. Shaking off his musings, Darcy continued.

“Have you given thought to your plans after Friday? I will be taking Elizabeth to London.”

“And you wish for some privacy. Come now, William, I am a grown woman, not a child. Of course I would not think of joining you at Darcy House.”

Relieved, he asked, “Do you still desire to travel to Town? I am of the opinion that you would be welcome at Afton House. If you prefer, you could return directly to Pemberley with Fitzwilliam, Beth, and Mrs. Annesley.”

“Thank you for asking. I will speak with Aunt when they arrive Wednesday. I truly do have need to travel to town before I leave for Derbyshire.”

They settled into an easy conversation. Darcy spoke more about his time in Town and of his conversations with Elizabeth. Georgiana could not help but be surprised, and more than a little perplexed, by how content her brother was with his choice of bride. He felt no shame at marrying someone so decidedly beneath him and no particular concerns about its effect on the rest of the family. Darcy appeared willing to weather any of society’s storms, and was prepared to stand by Elizabeth. She felt a flash of irritation; it was more likely that she and Beth would suffer society’s scorn — or worse, its pity. For who would want to align themselves with the Darcys when it would also mean forming a connection to the Bennets?

She also realized that his marriage would, on occasion, throw her into the company of Robert Bennet and that she would do well to reconcile herself to the eventuality. Moreover, it was to her advantage to accept the reality that soon she would no longer be mistress of the Darcy households and that it would be wise to accept, graciously, Elizabeth as her rightful successor. There was nothing to be gained by alienating her brother or new sister. She had enough regrets; a break with her family, even on principle, was not worth the wounds bound to be inflicted. She had had her share of sorrow in her nine and twenty years; she should not deliberate seek more when it was avoidable.

She remained in the room after Darcy left to see Beth, and remained alone in her thoughts. Since her broken engagement to Viscount Drury, Georgiana had discouraged all other potential suitors. She had not wanted to risk her heart again. Yet, no matter how diligent her efforts, she had been powerless to resist falling in love with Robert Bennet. But she had rejected him and now she was very much alone, her place in her world about to be changed forever – no longer the hostess, soon to be the guest, and in the near future, thirty years of age. The possibility of a happy home of her own seemed distant. There were men who would marry her for her money, but what of her duty, what of her self-respect? How would such a match be of use to Beth? Surely no man of appropriate rank and stature would have her now. For so long she clung to her duty, but where had that left her? Once again the tears came, mourning the loss of something that could never be – her happiness.

That night, as Darcy lay in bed, he recalled his conversations with his two sisters. Once again the contrast was palpable. Beth was overjoyed to see him; Georgiana had shed tears. He was at loss to know how to convince his elder sister to confide in him; perhaps she felt it no longer possible. He had found her weeping again, after he spoken with Beth, but he dare not betray his presence. She had refused to be open with him and she would have been mortified to be discovered in her agitated state. His instinct told him that her tears had much to do with Robert Bennet; he had sensed the same melancholy in Robert as he did in his sister. What had happened between them? He wished he could ask, but he knew neither would betray themselves to him. If Georgiana knew of the Bennets’ wealth, perhaps she could begin to release her prejudice But he did not have permission to confide in her; Mr. Bennet had not given him leave to do so, and, in truth, he doubted that Robert’s wealth would be enough for her. It had come through trade, and by this time Darcy knew Georgiana’s true opinion: only landed wealth was good enough for a Darcy. To be honest, he wondered if he should interfere. Whatever had occurred between the two was their private concern. If Georgiana could not put aside her pride and see Robert Bennet for the good man he truly was, she did not deserve to know his true position in the world. Oh why did life have to be so complicated!

He turned his thoughts to Elizabeth; she had been truly happy to see him. Her manners were as charming as always, but he knew she was hiding darker considerations inside. What would they do once they were married? He had given his word that the physical part of their arrangement would wait; that meant they would not be sharing a bed. What if she continued to have her episodes at night, what was he to do? Go to her and risk her anger, or worse, fear? He had rarely felt so helpless. He wished for her contentment, and he worried he would be unable to do anything to bring it about.

~~~>~<~~~

Darcy continued to call on Longbourn every day. Elizabeth was kept busy by her mother, so their time together was short. Darcy was conscious of the strain showing upon Elizabeth’s face and sought to provide what relief he could.

“Elizabeth,” he said one day as they sat together, “I am worried for you. These past days have been difficult for you. Do not try to deny it, I can see it on your face.”

“Mama has assured that I have kept busy. There is constantly some detail about which she needs to consult me.”

“How may I be of more assistance to you? So much has fallen upon you, I have not done enough in the wedding preparations.”

“William, I appreciate your offer, but there is little you can do. The majority of the decisions are made. The task that now consumes me is preparing to leave Longbourn.” Elizabeth’s voice broke as she spoke of leaving. Being in company, Darcy was unable to do more than gently squeeze her hand.

“Elizabeth, I do understand that you are facing a great many changes in your life, not the least of which is removing from your family and all that is familiar. But please believe that I intend to do all I can to soothe your unease.”

“Yes, thank you, William. I know that you will, and I know that you understand.”

“Has you father decided which maid will come with you? I believe he and your mother had nearly reached a decision.”

“Yes, he has already spoken to Sally. She, of course, is very excited.”

“I will speak to your father then, and inform my housekeeper in London to prepare for her. Is Sally helping you prepare your things?”

“Not yet, but soon. Jane has been gracious enough to offer her assistance. It has been most… comforting to have her with me.”

“When her wedding approaches, perhaps we will come early enough for you to return the favour.”

She was touched by his consideration for her well-being, and grateful for his understanding of the strong bond that existed between her and Jane.

“Thank you, William, I would like that.” Darcy smiled at Elizabeth, amazed at how little it took to bring her pleasure.

No one but Robert noticed the fond smiles of respectful affection that Darcy and Elizabeth shared. Robert had not ceased to be concerned for his sister since that wretched day of the attack. Darcy’s offer had been such a blessing; he knew his friend would care for Elizabeth. But the ache in his heart would not abate. He wondered at Elizabeth’s distress; he hoped her pain was not like his. He wished he could do more to help his sister. He did not think he could bear to visit them often if it meant he must endure the presence of Georgiana; a man who had felt less might be able to, but he could not.

Thus, the days before the wedding passed. Elizabeth felt she was in a dream, so quickly had her life been so altered. Darcy’s tender concern quieted much of the anxiety she would have felt had she not been assured that he did not expect to share her bed right away. At least in that, she had some small control of her destiny. Any choice she did have had been cruelly stolen the moment she met Wickham alone on the pathway.

~~~>~<~~~

The Earl and Countess of Matlock, and their younger son arrived on Wednesday. Bingley had prevailed upon his sister to invite the Bennets to dine at Netherfield that evening. Caroline had yet to recover from the shock of Darcy’s betrothal, but her brother’s insistence on playing host brought her out of her unhappy reverie. She was hostess to an earl, after all.

When the Bennets arrived, they were quickly introduced to the Netherfield’s newest guests. Lord Matlock surprised almost everyone with his warm greeting.

“Thomas Bennet! It has been a long time.”

“Yes, Lord Matlock. Ten years, at least.”

“Lady Matlock, may I present Mr. Thomas Bennet. You will remember that I have often spoken of him.”

“My pleasure, sir. Indeed, my husband speaks very highly of you.”

The gentleman explained how they had been introduced through mutual acquaintances from Cambridge when the Bennets lived in London. Because they saw each other almost exclusively at their club, their families had never met.

The evening progressed well. Caroline was an excellent hostess and the three families enjoyed a pleasant dinner together. The Bennets left earlier than they normally would have. There was still much to do and the morrow promised to be full of activity.

~~~>~<~~~

Elizabeth was surprised, when she answered her father’s summons to his library, to find Lord Matlock and his son there as well.

“Miss Bennet, thank you for joining us.”

“Is Mr. Darcy here as well?”

“No, Miss Bennet. My nephew wished to spend the morning with Beth. I anticipate that he will call later this afternoon.” Elizabeth nodded. “Miss Bennet, we have only just met, yet tomorrow you will become my niece. May I speak frankly?”

“Of course, Lord Matlock. My father would not have asked me here if he did not approve.”

The Earl had to smile at such a statement. “I must confess that I was astonished when Darcy informed us of the engagement, and of the events leading to it.” Elizabeth dropped her head, disconcerted. “Do not be distressed, or believe we hold you at all responsible. You are truly the innocent here. But I will not hide from you my unease when I learnt of it. Has my nephew informed you of the stipulations of his father’s will?” Elizabeth nodded. “Then you know that although Darcy is of age, he will not have complete control of his inheritance for three years. But the truth of the situation is that he has slowly taken more and more responsibility and control over his estate. It was always my intention, and Richard’s, that when Darcy turned five and twenty, he would be fully entrenched as Pemberley’s master, and Richard would then be free to leave. There are no prohibitions in George Darcy’s will about when and whom William chose as a bride, although we did not anticipate that he would marry so soon. Richard and I wish to discuss your assumption of the role of Mistress of Pemberley.”

Richard Fitzwilliam picked up the conversation. “Miss Bennet, as my father has said, we have been giving my cousin more and more authority over what is rightfully his. Until now, Georgiana has acted as mistress of Pemberley and Darcy House, but she understands that she will cede these responsibilities to you as Mrs. Darcy. However, I do advise you to solicit her assistance as you assume your duties. My role in the management of the estate will interfere little with you, and in any event, my position is becoming more and more that of a counsellor. Darcy needs to learn by making his own mistakes as well as by observation of others.”

“You will be at Pemberley when we arrive?”

“Yes, and I will remain in residence until Darcy turns five and twenty, although less now than these past five years. I give you my word that I will do my utmost not to interfere with you and your husband.”

“Miss Bennet, do you have other questions for Richard or me?”

“Not at this time, sir. Thank you for your openness and assurances. I am certain that we will become great friends, Colonel Fitzwilliam. And now I must return to my tasks. There is still much to be done before tomorrow.”

“One last thing before you leave, Miss Bennet.” Elizabeth looked at the Earl. “Welcome to the family, my dear.”

~~~>~<~~~

The two riders laughed as they galloped over the fields around Netherfield. Darcy had determined to take his younger sister out for a ride that crisp autumn morning. He had felt he had partially abandoned Beth with all of the activity that had overtaken him. Beth had need of reassurance, and Darcy knew time spent together in the saddle would be the perfect balm for any feelings of resentment she might harbour from his continued absence. As they finally slowed the horses to a walk, Darcy felt it was time to address the changes that were taking place.

“Beth, tomorrow is an important day in all of our lives, not just mine.”

“Yes, William. I shall be gaining a new sister!”

“That you will, but you must understand that Elizabeth’s responsibilities will change greatly. Many of the duties that Georgiana now attends to will be handled by Elizabeth.”

“I know this.”

“And Elizabeth’s role as an older sister may necessitate a change in the manner in which you spend time together. She will be more than a pleasant acquaintance.”

“What is it that you are trying so elegantly to tell me?”

Darcy smiled. “Elizabeth will no longer be just a source for your amusement. She will assume a role similar to what Georgiana has been to you.”

Beth silently contemplated her brother’s words. “I would hope she would never grow tired of pirates.”

“I believe I can assure you that she will never be in danger of that. Do not worry, Beth, she will not change overnight. Her new duties will consume much of her time, but she will still be the same Elizabeth of whom you are so fond, and she will be your sister in addition to being your friend.”

Reassured, Beth spirits rose again and soon she had her brother speaking of pirates and knaves and the vast array of subjects they loved to discuss.

So engaged, Darcy spent the morning with his younger sibling, fully aware that tomorrow his life would change, and his two sisters’ as well.

~~~>~<~~~

The party from Netherfield arrived at Longbourn Church well before the appointed hour. Mrs. Bennet had seen to the decorations; they were not ostentatious, Elizabeth would not allow it, but created a pleasant atmosphere signifying that two people were to marry there that day. Fitzwilliam laughed at his cousin’s nervousness, and did his best to put the agitated groom at ease. Darcy was having a difficult time understanding the emotions rolling over him. Today was the day. He was to be married, at the ripe old age of two and twenty. Never had he believed this day would come so soon. He began to doubt his ability to make Elizabeth happy, to be a good husband and still be a loyal friend.

While he pondered this over and over, a commotion signalled the arrival of the Bennet family. Robert Bennet escorted his mother and youngest sister to their places. All that remained was for Jane to enter, then Mr. Bennet would bring Elizabeth to the altar. Darcy heard Bingley gasp as Jane finally appeared. That could only mean that SHE was coming next.

When Elizabeth stepped into the church on her father’s arm, the light from the doorway framed her and she was little but a silhouette. As she approached he could finally see her. She wore a new gown that had been specially made, in great haste. And then she was finally there, with him. The familiar words of the service flowed through Darcy.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church … ”

Darcy’s attention wandered to Elizabeth, the truly innocent one. They where here because of her. The reality of how close she had come to calamity coursed through him. The weight of the responsibility to protect and cherish her nearly overcame him.

His thoughts were drawn back to the ceremony when he heard the minister speak to him. “Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?”

“I will.”

“Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?”

“I will,” said Elizabeth.

“Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?”

“I do,” Mr. Bennet said wistfully, but with conviction. The minister placed Elizabeth’s hand in Darcy’s and then it was time for Darcy to speak. As the words issued forth from his lips, he could hardly believe he was actually saying them.

“I, Fitzwilliam, take thee, Elizabeth, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.”

They unclasped their hands, and Darcy felt the minister place his hand in Elizabeth’s. Her clear voice etched itself into his memory.

“I, Elizabeth, take thee, Fitzwilliam, to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.”

Darcy saw Fitzwilliam hand the wedding ring to the minister, who in turn gave it to Darcy. He gently took Elizabeth’s left hand and placed the ring on her third finger.

“With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen”

The minister spoke a few words in prayer, then joined the couple’s right hands as he said, “Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder. For as much as Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth either to the other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a Ring, and by joining of hands; I pronounce that they be Man and Wife together, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

There, it was done. Elizabeth was now his wife.

The rest of the service passed quickly. Darcy felt strangely at peace, and, for the most part lost in reverie, heard only pieces of it.

“Ye husbands, dwell with your wives according to knowledge; giving honour unto the wife … O God, who hast consecrated the state of Matrimony, Look mercifully upon these thy servants, that both this man may love his wife, according to thy Word, and also that this woman may be loving and amiable, faithful and obedient to her husband … O Lord, bless them both, and grant them to inherit thy everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

And finally, when the last words where spoken, Darcy looked full upon Elizabeth. He could not resist, nor did he wish to; he bent and gave her his first kiss. Short, respectful, full of promise.

* The words of the service are taken from the Book of Common Prayer, 1662 Revision. Though nearly 150 years old by then, the 1662 edition of the BCP remained the approved version until 1928 when the edition in use today was adopted by the Church of England Convocations and Church Assembly.

(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 Seven

Elizabeth sat facing her new husband as the carriage made its way to London. The Darcys had not lingered long after the wedding breakfast, remaining only long enough to greet well-wishers and to eat. The day was in steady decline; the night relentlessly claiming its due as the Winter Solstice was fast approaching. Darcy wanted to arrive in London whilst it was still light; thus, Elizabeth was soon changing into her travelling clothes and preparing to leave her home for the last time.

They had begun the journey in conversation about the ceremony and the breakfast, but soon lapsed into silence as each drew deeper into their own thoughts.

Darcy contemplated the woman across from him. Not just any woman, his wife! He still could not understand what exactly had caused him to offer her marriage; it had come like a lightning bolt from a clear blue sky. Yet here he was, at two and twenty, irrevocably married.

The prospect of a lifetime with Elizabeth was not at all repugnant; in fact, it was quite the opposite. She was one of the most intelligent and amiable women of his acquaintance, he had never felt ill at ease around her – and she was a beautiful, graceful woman. He wondered how that had escaped him when they met. The first time he had really, truly looked at her was the day they had become engaged. During their walk, neither had felt compelled to speak, the presence of the other was enough. Their companions had given them relative privacy. Darcy and Elizabeth chose to use it in silence, learning to be near each other, without awkwardness in their new understanding. Now she was his life partner, his helpmeet, under his protection.

Mrs. Darcy. Elizabeth was now his wife, not just the sister of his good friend. He remembered how beautiful she looked in her wedding dress, an exquisite vision in white, coming down the aisle of Longbourn Church to pledge her troth to him. ‘One of the few things I remember from the service.’ He needed an heir, certainly, eventually, but he would not take her to his bed as yet; he had given Elizabeth leave to tell him when she was ready. When would he be ready? He well understood her concerns and uncertainty, her hesitation to fully embrace all aspects of marriage. Events had moved forward so rapidly, it was all that either could do to simply attend to what was required, without the leisure to understand the implications: how their feelings for each other could — or must — change.

Soon they would be at Darcy House, to begin their life together. What then? How were they to become man and wife when, at present, they were only friends? Damn Wickham! Had the man so frightened Elizabeth that intimacy, physical intimacy, was something that now, for her, was inseparable from fear, lust, and brutality? Darcy resolved to do everything in his power to demonstrate his respect and affection for her. He would be patient, with Elizabeth and with himself.

Suddenly, he realized how important it was to him that Elizabeth want to consummate the marriage, to become fully and completely his wife; not out of duty or gratitude, but because she wanted to, because she wanted him as her husband. Darcy marvelled at the thought. When had his happiness become so dependant on Elizabeth’s good opinion?

Then, not for the first time, and rather often in the past ten days, Darcy uttered a silent prayer that his Maker grant him the Wisdom of Solomon; he would need at least that to solve the conundrum that was his life.

Elizabeth studied the man sitting across from her. Her husband! How her life had changed in such a short time. Ten days ago, she had not a care in the world; now, she was married, to a man she was only just beginning to know. But the prospect of a lifetime spent with William was not at all repugnant. He was well-read, thoughtful, considerate – and he certainly was handsome: tall, proud, and dignified. The proof that he was a good and honourable man lay in the simple gold band on her finger, her wedding ring.

Mrs. Darcy. She was now his wife, not just the sister of his good friend. Soon they would be at Darcy House, to begin their life together. What then? Elizabeth knew much would be expected of her – from William, from her family, from her new family, from his household. Could she be a proper mistress for Darcy House? For Pemberley? Could she be a proper wife?

He had promised her time; otherwise, she would now be occupied with working up the courage to face him tonight: alone, in bed, just the two of them. She believed he would be gentle with her; she hoped that he would be. But how could she be certain until they … well, he needed an heir, and eventually she would go to him, to give him what was lawfully his. By then, her heart whispered, the fond affection she felt for him might become something more.

Elizabeth was amazed at the dissimilarity of experience at their wedding between her and William. Much of the time in church was a blur to him; she, on the other hand, remembered everything: the sweet smell of flowers, the expressions on the faces of the people as she walked down the aisle, the sound of her mother’s tears, and of her father’s voice when he gave her away.

She could hear the minister’s words: “… If any man can show any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.” Elizabeth had wondered if anyone would dare interfere, and she recollected the relief she felt when no one did.

She could still feel her bare hand in Darcy’s as he slid the ring onto her finger and said, “With this ring, I thee wed.”

She trembled as she recalled his next words: “With my body, I thee worship,” and reflected on the kiss he had given her.

Darcy had been watching Elizabeth out of the corner of his eye. When he saw her tremble, he became anxious.

“Elizabeth, are you cold?”

She smiled and conceded that it was, perhaps, chilled inside the compartment. “After all, it is the 6th of December.”

Darcy crossed over to sit next to her. “Let me warm you,” he pulled a rug over them, “is this better?” and placed his arm around her shoulders pulling her closer to his side.

“Yes, but… well, I am warmer. Thank you.”

“Relax your head against me, my friend. We are married now.”

Elizabeth desired a change of subject. “Tell me more of your home in London.”

“It is our home now — very well. The housekeeper is a woman by the name of Mrs. Joan Thomas. She has been in service to our family since shortly after I was born. I know you will get along well with her.”

“I hope she does not expect the same level of proficiency in management from me as from your sister.” Elizabeth laughed as she spoke.

“She will help you, do not concern yourself about the matter. I am confident in your ability to manage our households. You are a remarkably intelligent woman.” Elizabeth blushed at his praise.

Darcy continued to describe Darcy House: the neighbourhood, the servants, and the house itself. Elizabeth had many questions and a good portion of their journey was thus spent.

When the topic had been exhausted, Darcy felt his wife relax in his embrace and recognized the signs of her slumber. Then he too allowed himself to be lulled asleep by the gentle sway of the carriage and the warmth of her body next to his.

He was the first to awaken, the familiar smells and sounds of London declaring that their destination was near. Darcy considered waking Elizabeth, but thought better of it when he remembered how tired she had appeared. He knew from Robert that her nights were still disturbed, and he was thankful that she was able now to nap quietly.

As they entered that part of town where Darcy House was situated, Darcy gently awakened Elizabeth.

“Elizabeth, we are almost home,” he said quietly.

She sleepily opened her eyes, slightly confused as to her whereabouts, but disposed to snuggle closer to the warmth beside her.

“Elizabeth, you must awaken. We will be at Darcy House in a few minutes. I do not believe you desire your first entrance to be one asleep in my arms.”

She was much more aware of her surroundings this time. Regretfully she sat up out of his hold.

“I am awake now. Let me attend to my appearance, I must look almost wild.”

Darcy moved back across the compartment to reclaim the seat he had abandoned hours ago. “Not at all, Mrs. Darcy, you look remarkably well.”

“I highly doubt it, Mr. Darcy. I will be ready shortly, however.”

Darcy watched in fascination as she tended to her hair with practiced ease. As she finished, the carriage turned onto the street that led to Darcy House, and she once again asked his opinion.

“You look lovely, Elizabeth. Do not distress yourself.”

“I am now Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy. I want to make the proper impression.”

“Elizabeth, you will charm the entire household.”

“First impressions are important. I would not wish to have to overcome a poor one. Many misunderstanding may arise if the parties involved form poor initial opinions.”

Smiling, Darcy replied, “Then it is most fortunate that we were not so misled.” The carriage stopped. “We are here, Mrs. Darcy. It is time for you to assume your rightful place in our home.”

Darcy descended from the carriage and turned to assist Elizabeth. She tried very hard not to gawk at the building in front of her. It was grand and impressive, but not overly ornate, much in keeping with her impression of her new family. Darcy led her up the steps and through the front door where the entire household, as far as she could tell, was lined up in the hall to greet them. Darcy stopped and addressed the assemblage.

“Thank you all for coming to welcome us. I would like to present my wife, Mrs. Darcy. I cannot imagine bringing you a better new mistress.”

The servants broke out in applause and cheers. Elizabeth blushed, Darcy bowed his head in acknowledgement, then raised his hand for silence. “Once again, thank you all. I have asked Mrs. Thomas to prepare a small celebration in the servants’ quarters after dinner this evening.” Murmurs of appreciation were once again silenced by a small gesture from Darcy, who then turned his attention to the pair of older servants in front of them.

“Mrs. Darcy, allow me to present my butler and housekeeper, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas.” The couple made their bows.

“Mrs. Thomas, I look forward to becoming better acquainted.”

“As do I, madam.”

“We shall meet together soon. Until then, please carry on with the instructions Miss Darcy left. I am certain they are more than adequate to meet our needs.”

“Yes, Mrs. Darcy, as you wish.” The housekeeper could not help but be relieved. Her first impression of the new mistress was favourable: it appeared that she was not a lady to put on airs. She would reserve final judgment until she had a chance for closer observation.

Darcy led Elizabeth down the row, introducing her to each servant. When they came to Sally, Elizabeth stopped to speak with her.

“I am relieved that you arrived safely.”

“Yes, Ma’am. We left with your things shortly after the wedding. Mr. Darcy allowed us to stay long enough to witness it. Thank you, sir.”

“It was my pleasure.”

By the time the introductions were finished, Elizabeth feared she would remember none of the servants’ names save Sally, Mrs. Thomas, and Mr. Thomas. Darcy asked if she would like to refresh herself from the journey, a suggestion she gratefully accepted.

Sally had already made her way into her mistress’ chambers when Elizabeth appeared on her husband’s arm. “I will come for you in an hour and give you a tour of the house before dinner,” Darcy told Elizabeth. He turned to Sally. “Welcome, Sally. I trust you have found everything to your liking?”

“Oh, yes, sir, Mr. Darcy. Mrs. Thomas has been very kind and helpful. I shall be proud to be in the service of your family and my mistress.”

“Very good. I expect you to take prodigiously good care of Mrs. Darcy.”

“Of course, sir,” she said as she dropped a curtsy.

When he had gone, Sally enquired if Elizabeth should like a bath. “Mrs. Thomas has given orders that hot water be ready should you desire one.”

“That sounds wonderful! Yes, please see to it.”

When the maid returned, Elizabeth asked, “How do you find Darcy House, Sally? I daresay you have seen more of it than I have.”

“I doubt that Miss Eliz… I mean, Mrs. Darcy. Excuse me, ma’am, this is all so new.”

“It is new to me, too. Please continue.”

“I have been very busy. I had only time to visit my new quarters and change, and then I was busy unpacking your things. I had just finished with a trunk when I was called downstairs for your arrival. In fact ma’am, I have not yet finished unpacking. I will do so as soon as you are dressed.”

“You need not rush. You know which trunks are important. The rest may remain packed until we reach Pemberley.”

“I would much prefer to finish tonight. I want to make a good impression on the other servants,” she added shyly.

Elizabeth smiled, recalling her own worries. “I understand. Do what you feel is proper. I will be downstairs for quite some time this evening.”

Elizabeth felt rested and refreshed after her bath. As she awaited her husband, it occurred to her how reinvigorated she felt after her nap in the carriage, and realized that for the first time since that awful day, her dreams had been undisturbed.

Darcy met her at her door. “Are you ready, Elizabeth?” she nodded. “Shall we begin on this floor? It contains the family apartments.” Darcy showed her the various rooms, telling her who occupied each of the apartments. “These were my rooms until today,” he said as they entered the next to last suite.

“You never used the master’s suite?”

“Until this day I never felt comfortable doing so. It seemed … not quite right without the companion rooms being occupied. Let me show you my new chambers.”

Elizabeth felt nervous as she entered his rooms. She knew that the next time she came …

“Mrs. Thomas has seen to it that our rooms have been kept in good repair. If you wish to change anything…”

“I am very content with my rooms. I see no reason to make changes for the sake of change. When I desire to re-decorate, I will make my wishes known. Is this satisfactory?”

“Perfectly. I want you to feel comfortable here, and at Pemberley.”

“And it does you credit. Thank you.”

Next they visited the guest quarters, then made their way downstairs to the public rooms, where they would spend most of their time together. Elizabeth was impressed with the subtle elegance of the furnishings. They were of the highest quality, but neither too bold nor too ornate, with a grace and refinement that pleased her greatly.

Not unexpectedly, her favourite room, by far, was the library. “What a magnificent room, and so many books!”

“It is nothing compared to Pemberley. The library there is the work of many generations.”

Nevertheless, she was entranced as she ran her fingers over the bindings of the books on one shelf. Her hand stopped and she pulled out a volume.

“I shall begin with this one, I think.”

Lyrical Ballads?”

“Yes. I feel like reading poetry tonight.”

Darcy next showed her his study and then hers; his obviously the more heavily used of the two. Elizabeth was delighted with the rich wood and comfortable leather of the furnishings. The chair at his desk had a well-worn, comfortable look. Elizabeth took the opportunity and sat down in it.

“This is what the master of the house surveys.”

‘Only Elizabeth,’ he thought. A servant announced dinner. “Are you hungry?”

“Now that you mention it, I am. Please lead the way, sir.”

Darcy had instructed that dinner be served in the small dining room. It was more intimate, and the table not so imposing. He asked Elizabeth to sit next to him, since it was only the two of them. As they ate, Elizabeth gave him her impressions of the house and further inquired about her duties and management of the household. Darcy told her all that he knew, but confessed that she would learn more from Mrs. Thomas, as he had left most of the domestic details to her and Georgiana. Elizabeth was impressed with the quality of the food she was served. She had always been well fed at Longbourn, but Darcy’s cook far surpassed anything to which she was accustomed.

“Will you play for me tonight?” Darcy asked after they had finished their meal.

“How can I refuse? I have wanted to test the instrument in the drawing room since the moment I saw it.”

They retired to the drawing room thereafter, and Elizabeth played for nearly an hour.

“I am afraid my playing has disappointed you tonight.”

“Not at all, you are only unfamiliar with some of the pieces. We shall have to buy new music for you.”

They talked companionably until a yawn escaped Elizabeth.

“It has been a very long day, Mrs. Darcy, let us retire for the evening. I shall escort you to your rooms.”

“A wise idea, as I might become lost if you did not.”

When they stood before the door to Elizabeth’s chambers, Darcy took her hand and bestowed a kiss. “Good night, Mrs. Darcy. Sleep well.”

Shyly she replied, “Good night to you, Mr. Darcy. Will I see you at breakfast?”

“Send word, and I shall escort you down when you are ready.”

“I will. Goodnight.”

Darcy stood for several moments staring at the now closed door. Finally, he recollected himself and began to walk to his rooms. For a moment, he forgot that he had taken the master’s chambers and had to retrace his steps. Once changed into his nightshirt and robe, Darcy dismissed his man and poured himself a brandy, taking it with him to a chair by the fire. He sat sipping his drink, recalling the events of the day. All together, it had gone well: The wedding went off flawlessly, the wedding breakfast was pleasant, and his time alone with Elizabeth had been comfortable. Their tastes were well matched, perfectly illustrated by her choice of book. He reached over to the stack on the table next to him and pulled out the same title Elizabeth had chosen, his personal copy from the collection he kept in his room. He leafed through the pages until he found the passage he was searching for:

It is an ancyent Marinere,
And he stoppeth one of three:
“By thy long grey beard and thy glittering eye
“Now wherefore stoppest me?

The bridegroom’s doors are open’d wide
“And I am next of kin;
“The Guests are met, the Feast is set,–
“May’st hear the merry din. *

After Elizabeth had changed into her nightclothes, she sat at her dressing table and waited for Sally to brush out her hair. She noticed a new brush set and a note folded atop the mirror.

Elizabeth,

Please accept this set as a token of my respect to commemorate of our wedding day. It is my hope that in the years to come, when you use this, it will bring pleasant remembrances of the day we were joined in holy matrimony.

FD

~~~>~<~~~

“No, Elizabeth, it is most improper! And I take what I want!” He threw her roughly to the ground; before Elizabeth could react, Wickham was upon her, the weight of his body pinning her. Once again he coarsely kissed her mouth, muffing her screams. As he lifted his face from hers, Elizabeth spat at him. Enraged, Wickham hit her, so hard that a gash appeared above her jaw line.

“A cat I see. I know what to do to wild cats!” He grasped her gown at the neckline and rent it down the middle, exposing her stays. “That is much better! You have lovely breasts, Elizabeth. You would do better to wear gowns that show them to their best advantage.”

“Stop this at once! You will not get away with this!”

Wickham laughed in her face. “And who is to stop me? We are alone, Elizabeth.”

“My family will seek justice!”

“And risk the ruination of their reputation and yours? I think not. And if I get you with child? They will just send you away in disgrace. No, I have nothing to fear.”

The fire was only glowing embers when Darcy awoke; the sounds of a woman in distress had roused him from his slumber. He donned his robe and quickly made his way to the door that led to Elizabeth’s bedroom, from whence the sound seemed to come. Silently he opened the door and slipped through. By the dim light of the dying fire, he saw his wife thrashing about her bed in great agitation, yet apparently fast asleep. Darcy moved to her bedside and knelt down, gently laying his hand upon her arm.

“Elizabeth. Shhh,” his voice barely above a whisper. “Elizabeth, all is well. It is William. I am here.”

Elizabeth finally began to wake with his calming words. She opened her eyes and there was no mistaking the look of fear there. Darcy moved a lock of hair that had fallen on her forehead, then gently stroked her brow.

“It was only a dream, Elizabeth. All is well. I am here with you now.” She sat up, threw her arms around his chest, and began to cry.

“Hush. All is well. No harm can befall you here.” Darcy silently held her as she released the painful emotions that had overtaken her sleep. Her tears at last spent, she released her hold on Darcy and drew back.

“Thank you,” she whispered. Darcy smiled, then reached to stroke her upper arm before he began to stand, intending to return to his room. But before he could leave, Elizabeth caught his hand.

“Please, William, please stay with me. I cannot bear to be alone with my dreams. Just, just stay and hold me.”

“If you wish, I will.”

Elizabeth moved towards the side of the bed and motioned for Darcy to lie next to her.

“Turn the other way, Elizabeth” She obeyed and he brought her into his embrace. “Close your eyes, but do not speak.” He then began to describe the wonders and beauties of Derbyshire and how much he looked forward to showing it all to her. Soon, as in the carriage, she relaxed and her breathing took on the rhythm of peaceful slumber. Once he was sure she was asleep, Darcy allowed sleep to overtake him.

Elizabeth awoke the next morning calm and refreshed. She saw the indentation in the pillows where he had lain, and remembered, first with embarrassment and then with gratitude, how William had come to her and eased her distress. Relieved to be spared the mortification of awakening to find him in her bed, both dressed only in nightclothes, she called for her maid; she would thank him at breakfast.

Darcy had been awakened by a lonely cock’s crow, the light of the morning just illuminating the room. His arms felt the delightful softness of his wife’s slumbering form. He frowned as he remembered what horrors had called him to her room, but soon the gentle rise and fall of her breathing caused his mood to brighten and ease toward something very like… contentment. It was a wondrous thing to wake in the presence of his wife.

He studied her face. It was peaceful now; no trace of her former distress remained, replaced by a softness and the hint of a smile. Darcy pulled her closer to fight off the chill that had settled in during the night. He contemplated rising and tending the fire but reconsidered; he was unsure how Elizabeth would react to finding him in her room. He did not wish for her to begin her full first day as a married woman in other than quiet solitude. Thus, after enjoying the privilege of holding her close to him, Darcy carefully removed himself from her side and from her bed, contenting himself with the hope that soon he would have her permission to begin the day, both of them fully awake, by her side.

~~~>~<~~~

Elizabeth was nervous as she met Darcy to go down to breakfast. He saw her discomfort and set about to re-assure her.

“Good morning, Elizabeth. I would ask if you slept well, but I believe I already know the answer.” She looked away, a blush betraying her embarrassment, and missed the twinkle in his eye. “Elizabeth, I am teasing. There is nothing of which to be ashamed. Robert told me you have had difficulty sleeping since … I was not surprised when I heard you calling out.”

“Oh, sir, what must you think of me?”

“That you have done no wrong, Elizabeth; you are the one who was wronged. I would be more concerned if you were NOT affected in some way by your ordeal.”

“But to invite you to…”

“Mrs. Darcy, you are my wife. There is nothing improper about our sharing a bed together. That is, unless you regret my presence.”

“No, you were all that was kind and gentle. It is only that…”

“You need not say any more, I understand. Elizabeth?”

“Hmm?”

“When we became engaged, I told you that we both needed time to become accustomed to each other. That has not changed. I intend for us to spend this next fortnight becoming much better acquainted with each other before the demands of our lives force us into society. I need to learn what it is to be a husband as much as you need to reconcile yourself to being my wife. We shall travel that pathway together. There is so much more to a marriage than where we sleep.”

“Thank you, William, and thank you for the beautiful brush set.”

“Were you surprised?”

“I expected nothing of the sort.”

“You must accustom yourself to such surprises and gifts from me; I plan to provide you with both for a very long time. And I did want to give you something special to remember our wedding day.”

In the breakfast room, Darcy seated his wife and offered to fill her plate. As they ate, they discussed the day ahead.

“I believe you will need many new things. Derbyshire is much colder than you are used to. We should start with the modiste today. As the rest of our family has not yet retuned from Hertfordshire, I will gladly accompany you. I asked Georgiana for the names of the establishments she patronizes. My presence should assure that you are taken care of properly.”

“That is most generous, but surely I will not need so many new things.”

Darcy smiled. “Elizabeth, you need to think of yourself as Elizabeth Darcy, not as Elizabeth Bennet. Please trust me. I also anticipated your reluctance, and asked my aunt’s advice on your needs. She was quite happy to inform me that I, too, had no idea what you wardrobe should now include. I was given instructions on what a lady of your station will require. I am afraid you will be quite put out by the amount of new garments you will be acquiring in the next week, as well as the cost of such expenditures.”

Resignedly, Elizabeth asked. “Where shall we ever start?”

“It is most important that we order new winter boots, coats, and other outerwear. I do not wish to travel to Pemberley without these items at least.”

Elizabeth was not too surprised at the looks they received in the different shops they patronized that day when Darcy introduced her as his wife. If Darcy felt awkward accompanying her, he did not allow it to show. The deference shown them was apparent; the proprietors knew the Darcy name. When Darcy was satisfied with the progress they had made, he ordered the carriage to take them home.

“William, I am grateful that tomorrow in the Lord’s Day. I daresay I am in need of a day to recover. I am somewhat overwhelmed by it all. We visited shops today that I never expected to patronize.”

“Please! Stop!” She pleaded. “You will not get away with this!”

Wickham laughed in her face. “And who is to stop me? We are alone, Elizabeth.”

Darcy was again awakened by Elizabeth’s cries; this time he knew their cause. Quickly he went to her bed and gently touched her arm.

“Elizabeth, wake up, it is only a dream. Please, wake up. I am here. He will never hurt you again.”

Once again, as Elizabeth awoke and opened her eyes, Darcy saw the deep distress resident in her. She sat up, grasped him to her, and buried her head in his chest, the tears overflowing. Darcy swung his legs up on the bed and leaned back against the headboard. When Elizabeth had finally calmed, he made no move to leave and she fell asleep still clasped to him. Elizabeth woke the next morning with the last remnants of Darcy’s warmth in the covers next to her.

~~~>~<~~~

The whispers began as Mr. & Mrs. Darcy made their way to the pew in St._______ Church on the crisp Sunday morning. Both Darcy and Elizabeth were aware that they, and especially she, were being scrutinized. They had discussed attending services in another parish, but quickly discarded that idea. Darcy and Elizabeth had nothing to be ashamed of; to retreat into anonymity would make it seem as though they did, and would not help establish Elizabeth’s place in London society. They would hold their heads high and face the scrutiny of their peers, with the Darcy name un-besmirched.

When the service was finished, Darcy introduced Elizabeth to several acquaintances, curious about his new wife. Fortunately, those inclined to venture out to church this time of year were generally good, kind, respectable people. The Darcys received the congratulations of their fellow parishioners before returning home. Elizabeth was thankful that the weather was still comparably mild for the time of year, and they enjoyed a leisurely stroll to Darcy House.

For Elizabeth, the morning had been most illuminating. First was the realization that Darcy had once again come to her aid in the night and had stayed with her until well nigh morning. Second, she was pleased with his familiarity with his prayer book and the readings and music of the advent season. Nothing so far had proven him irreligious, but his behaviour in worship served to reinforce her impression that her husband was, in essentials, a good man. Within her was arising a fondness and affection for one Fitzwilliam Darcy, an affection beyond gratitude, that might not yet be called love; his happiness and well being were becoming important to her.

The rest of Sunday was spent together quietly, the afternoon in the library, each engrossed in a book. After a light supper, they retired to a sitting room and Darcy began to tell Elizabeth some of his family’s history and memories of his parents. Elizabeth was interested in whatever she could learn of George and the Lady Anne Darcy for she instinctively knew that the key to truly understanding her husband, the man he was today, lay in learning about the people who had moulded him into their image of the next master of Pemberley.

That night, when they retired to their rooms, Darcy purposefully stayed awake, reading by the fire. As he anticipated, nearly two hours after they said goodnight, Elizabeth called out in her sleep.

“Stop!”

“No, I have nothing to fear.”

Resolutely, he went to her bed and lay down next to her, calmly speaking soothing words and engulfing her in his embrace.

“Then you should fear me, Wickham!”

And then Wickham was gone, his voice replaced by another more caring and gentle. “Elizabeth, all is well. It is William. I am here.”

He was unsure whether she actually woke, but her distress abated and she lay, quieted, in his arms.

Elizabeth awoke the next day with no memory of William having come to her, but saw the telltale signs that he had indeed been near her in the night. She felt strangely lighter, as if the distress of the past two weeks had loosened some of its hold on her. Grateful for her husband’s forbearance, she readied herself for another day at the most fashionable modistes in town.

~~~>~<~~~

The Matlocks returned to London on Saturday, one day after the Darcy wedding. Georgiana would stay at Afton House with her uncle and aunt and travel with them the following week to Matlock and thence to Pemberley. Georgiana was relieved to finally flee Hertfordshire and Robert Bennet. She had avoided his company as well as she could, but on the occasions they were thrown together, she could not mistake the look of longing and sadness that settled upon him whenever their gazes met. She understood his pain, indeed, it mirrored her own; but she found a perverse comfort in the fact that his distress had not yet turned to resentment or indifference.

Georgiana wished she could confide in someone, but was at a loss as to whom that someone might be. William would not, could not, understand; Beth was too young. Richard… the families expected them to marry, she could not speak of this to Richard. Normally she would be comfortable confiding in her aunt, but the same reluctance that applied to Richard seemed to bar any intimacy on the subject of matters of her heart with her Aunt Matlock.

Georgiana returned to Afton House on Monday afternoon after a day spent arranging for items to be sent to Pemberley for Christmas. It would be the last time she performed this service for Pemberley and her brother; henceforth, his wife would see to such things. It was with complete astonishment that she heard Viscount Drury announced.

“Lord Drury, this is certainly a surprise. It has been many years.”

“Yes, Miss Darcy, it has, but those years have treated you well, for you are more beautiful today than when last we parted in Derbyshire.” Drury said smoothly.

“You are too kind.”

“Lady Allenby had a most agitated visitor last week. Your aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.” Georgiana stiffened. It had begun. “Yes, Miss Darcy, I know about your brother’s wedding. I have also learned, through sources of my own, the reasons for it.”

“Please Henry, if you have come to triumph over me, then I pray you must excuse me.”

“Wait! Do not go, Georgiana. I have come with an entirely different purpose in mind. May I continue?”

Georgiana was confused; what could he want? Why, after all this time, had he come? And why now? She hesitated, then nodded. If nothing else, courtesy demanded that she hear him out.

“We did not part on the best of terms.”

“No, we did not.”

“Have you ever wondered why I never married? I have speculated why you have not. Because of your family, Darcy and Beth, is it not?” She could not deny it. “Georgiana, I know I was an arrogant, selfish fool. How I acted, what I said, the manner in which I asked you to set aside propriety was wrong. I had hoped that you could come to forgive me and allow me to renew my addresses. Georgiana, you are still the only woman I have ever wanted to marry.”

Georgiana was shocked, shocked beyond any ability to speak.

“Your concern for your family, your adherence to familial duty, must be shaken by your brother’s actions. I know you, Georgiana Darcy. You are worried for your sister and for your family’s honour. I offer a simple solution, marry me, Georgiana. My title, my connections, my estate, and my position in society will restore your family’s reputation. Be assured of my desire to marry only you. Have I not proven the constancy of my wish to be your husband these many years since you broke our engagement? You are the only woman for me, Georgiana. Marry me.”

“Henry, I… it is too much for me now.”

“You need not give me an answer today. I have waited this long, what is a few more days?”

Georgiana paused, then replied, “I travel to Matlock with my family at the end of the week. I will give you my answer before I leave.”

She stood; he moved toward her, taking her hand and bestowing a kiss. “I look forward to your answer and dare hope you will make me, at last, a happy man. Good evening, Miss Darcy.”

When he had left the house, Georgiana retreated to her room and collapsed in tears. “Oh, what will I do now?” she cried, overcome with a nearly unbearable sadness.

~~~>~<~~~

George Wickham stared at the papers on the table before him. His new commission. He was now a major in His Majesty’s Regular army, with orders to report on the second of January to General ______’s regiment in Newcastle.

Lady Allenby had been surprised when he told her of his choice.

“Do you not prefer to be closer to London?”

“No, my lady. I am from the North, and I wish now to be closer to my home country.”

“But Newcastle is so unfashionable. You shall be bored there. I would have paid for a commission in a regiment in Town.”

“Lady Allenby, the reasons I left Colonel Forster’s command make it exceedingly prudent that I leave London and become situated in a place where it is unlikely that rumours might follow. Please, it is the best I can expect without actually leaving England.”

“I must reluctantly agree, although I shall miss your company.”

“As I will yours.”

“Come to me tonight?”

“Lady Allenby…”

“Your commission is paid for. You have no need to worry on that score.”

“I will come.”

Lady Allenby was true to her word. The commission was purchased and there was no repeat of her behaviour during his last visit. Even now, remembrance brought revulsion.

*****

Two weeks previously

Wickham arrived at Lady Allenby’s at the usual time. He wondered, with a sense of dread, what her demands would be this time. He desperately needed her money to buy his commission, but the last time she had commanded him to action, he had almost ended up dead, with his career hanging in the balance.

“I knew you would come, George.”

“You wished it, my lady.” Wickham moved to join her in her bed.

“Stop where you are, George, and stand at attention.” He did so. “Now then, Captain. You have asked for my assistance in buying a commission in the regulars. I assume you wish to remain at the level of Captain?”

“Yes, my lady,”

“I will do so, George, but you must do exactly as I say before you leave me tonight. Is that clear?”

“Yes,” he gasped, “but please remember that my wound is not yet healed.”

“Ah, yes, your wound. I will remember that. Oh, and George, there is one more condition for you this evening.”

“Yes?” Fear was evident in his voice.

“You do not do exactly as I say, you will receive not a captain’s commission, but an ensign’s instead.”

Wickham was in shock. He knew the woman before him could be cruel, but he began to loath what would happen next.

Hours later, as dawn was breaking, Lady Allenby had finally finished with him and he lay down, totally exhausted. She had used him in ways she had never before demanded. His muscles ached, he could feel blood beginning to seep from his wound, and still she demanded that his obedience. At last she told him to dress. He could see her look of pleasure as she watched him struggled to fasten his clothing.

Lady Allenby summoned her maid. “See that the Captain is led out of the house at once. Do not allow him to tarry even for necessities. If I find that you have, you shall be dismissed immediately.” Wickham was appalled by her words. “Thank you for your company tonight, Captain. It has been most entertaining.”

Back in the safety of his quarters, he locked the door, fell on his bed, and began to silently weep. He had been utterly humiliated. So many times he had had to remind himself what was at stake. If he did not accede to the lady’s wishes, he had little hope for his future. The difference between ensign and captain was too great.

His last thought, as he finally succumbed to sleep, was to wonder if this was how a prostitute felt the first time she had to sell herself to buy food for her supper.

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