Posted on 2010-05-03
When Elizabeth awoke the following morning, it was to the sound of a torrent of rain splashing against her window. Burrowing deeper under the covers, she willed the warmth and comfort of her bed to lull her back to sleep once more, somehow sure that it was far too early for her to be awake given how late the ball had ended the night before. Despite her best efforts, however, sleep eluded her and with a resigned sigh she got up and rang for Sophie. Her maid could not wholly conceal her surprise at seeing her mistress up and about already (though in truth it was a good deal later than Elizabeth's usual want) and Elizabeth smiled and told her,
"I know, I know, it is far too early. But I am awake and not at all in the mood to stay abed so I might as well get dressed. Is anyone else up yet, do you know?" She asked Sophie as the younger girl set about readying her things for the day.
Apparently Sophia had also arisen early and Elizabeth, once Sophie had her dressed and her hair done, went in search of her friend. She found her eating her breakfast alone in one of the morning rooms.
"Lizzy!" Sophia exclaimed brightly. "I thought everyone would remain abed for hours yet."
"The benefit of youth, no doubt," Elizabeth playfully replied. "May I steal a piece of toast?" She asked, eyeing the breakfast tray as she took the seat next to Sophia.
"Oh, of course, help yourself," Sophia replied happily. "Would you like some tea?"
"Hmm, please," Elizabeth replied.
"Were you very late to bed last night?" Sophia asked, handing Elizabeth her cup.
"Very," Elizabeth confirmed. "It was past four, I'm certain of it."
"Goodness!" Sophia replied before asking, "And did you have a good time?"
Sensing her friend's eagerness to hear all about the evening, Elizabeth smiled playfully as she replied, "I certainly did; shall I tell you about it?"
"Please do," Sophia requested excitedly before adding, "Oh, but you must wait for Georgie to come before you do so that she may hear it as well."
"Georgiana is to call?" Elizabeth replied, surprised.
"Yes," Sophia affirmed. "Mother suggested I invite her for the morning so that I would have some company whilst you all caught up on your sleep. But now you are here as well it will be so much better!"
Elizabeth smiled at the younger girl's enthusiasm and set about finishing her tea and toast whilst they awaited the arrival of their guest. They did not have long to wait and soon heard Warner answering the knock at the front door. Expecting only Georgiana, Elizabeth and Sophia were surprised to see that she was accompanied by her brother, who returned Elizabeth's look with a playful grin.
"This is an unexpected pleasure, Mr Darcy. Were you so eager to enjoy the company of your sister and her friend?" Elizabeth teased her betrothed by way of greeting.
"Whilst I undoubtedly would enjoy a morning spent with two such lovely young ladies," Darcy replied charmingly with a smile at his sister and her friend, "I confess that I had hoped that you would also be up and ready for company."
"How fortunate for you that I could not sleep, then," Elizabeth playfully replied.
The four took their seats and Elizabeth and Darcy set about assuaging the curiosity of the two girls about the night before. They naturally omitted any mention of the less than pleasant aspects of the evening, but their enjoyment of the event was obvious, and sincere. Indeed, after their waltz they had paid very little attention to anyone but each other and their friends, and had ended the night quite happily.
"I believe we owe you our thanks, Georgiana," Elizabeth noted at one point with a fond smile at her soon to be sister. "Our waltz would not have been half so successful without your excellent tuition."
"I was happy to help," Georgiana replied with a pleased blush.
"Did many couples take part?" Sophia asked curiously. "Mother was a little worried that people would be too self-conscious to do so, I know."
"There were a fair number of us," Darcy replied; he smiled and added knowingly, "No doubt your parent's participation was a powerful incentive."
A knock at the door prevented any further discussion and they all watched as Fred cautiously peered into the room; seeing who was present, he grinned and bounded inside.
"I knew I heard voices!" He proclaimed happily. "I thought you would all still be in bed."
"Why would I be in bed, brother," Sophia replied impatiently. "I was not at the ball."
"No, but you usually like to stay in bed so long that mama sends someone to wake you," Fred replied with unfailing honesty.
"Come along Fred," Elizabeth spoke quickly before Sophia, in her embarrassment, could say something intemperate. "I have a new game for you today."
"Really?" Fred replied eagerly, allowing Elizabeth to turn him around and herd him from the room. Darcy got up and followed the pair, leaving Georgiana to listen to Sophia's complaints about younger brothers.
"Yes," Elizabeth patiently stated, smiling over at William. "It is a very difficult game that only the cleverest of people can master, but I'm certain that you are fit for the challenge."
Darcy, noticing that Elizabeth was leading them towards the library, smiled to himself as he realised what game she was speaking of and playfully queried, "Are you certain he will manage it? I'm not so sure."
"Of course I will!" Fred proclaimed indignantly, quite determined now to prove Mr Darcy wrong.
"That's the spirit, Fred," Elizabeth encouraged, laughing as her betrothed grinned boyishly at her.
Entering the library, Fred ran ahead into the centre of the room and then looked at Elizabeth expectantly. "What are we going to play?"
"Chess," Darcy replied succinctly before Elizabeth had a chance.
Fred wrinkled his nose. "That's an old man's game," he complained. "Papa and Uncle Casterton play it."
"Ah, but so do we," Elizabeth replied, heading over to the chessboard; as Darcy retrieved an extra chair and set it beside the board, Elizabeth waved their young charge over. "And I assure you, anyone can play. Although only if they're good enough," she added with a sideways glance at Darcy. "Perhaps Mr Darcy was right; perhaps chess isn't a game for you after all."
"No!" Fred exclaimed, running over and taking his seat before Darcy or Elizabeth could say another word. "I can do it. Show me." At Elizabeth's arched brow he smiled sheepishly and added, "Please."
"Very well," Elizabeth granted; she took her seat and smiled up at Darcy as he thought to move it in for her. "Thank you."
Darcy nodded in reply and then moved around to the opposite side, settling into his seat. He smiled at Fred's rapt attention as Elizabeth began to explain the rudiments of chess and sat back in his chair, quite content.
"I shall make a champion out of him yet, just you wait and see," Elizabeth declared laughingly a few hours later as she and Darcy took advantage of a break in the weather for a turn around the park outside the Fraiser's house. Everyone else had finally arisen and they had been able to escape for a few moments alone.
"He certainly seemed to pick up the basics easily enough," Darcy agreed lightly; he smiled down at her. "You are a good teacher."
"And we both have the patience of saints," Elizabeth rejoined happily, thinking of the amount of repetition that had been required; Fred was a bright boy, but his mind was too lively to stay focused for long.
"That bodes well for the future, I'm sure," Darcy replied.
"Oh, certainly," Elizabeth teased. "How else are we to put up with one another?"
"Elizabeth!" Darcy chuckled. "You know that is not what I meant."
"I do," Elizabeth replied. "It's still true though," she added impertinently and Darcy grinned and shook his head.
"Did you truly enjoy yourself last night?" Elizabeth asked after a moment. She knew of her own feelings of course but wondered how her introverted, shy betrothed had found the whole event.
"I did," Darcy assured her with a complacent smile. "More so than I have in years."
"I'm glad," Elizabeth replied quietly, resting her cheek against his shoulder as they ambled slowly around the park. "I would not like to think that I had ruined it for you."
"Hardly," Darcy scoffed. Elizabeth looked up at him quickly and he sighed and patiently explained, "I enjoyed myself because you were there, love."
"Oh," Elizabeth breathed; she blushed and smiled bashfully. "I should have known that, shouldn't I?"
"Yes," Darcy succinctly before teasing, "But as you said, I have the patience of a saint."
Elizabeth laughed and declared, "You see, I was right!"
"As always, love," Darcy replied indulgently, bringing her hand up to his lips for a kiss.
"I was so happy to see my father enjoying himself last night," Elizabeth commented after a brief pause. "I was worried it would be awful for him but he seemed quite pleased be the end of the evening. Though I confess I wonder how much of his good mood was the result of Emily's company," she admitted with a smile.
"How do you feel about that?" Darcy asked, halting their progress and turning to her so that he could properly read her face. "About the possibility of your father marrying again?"
"I can think of nothing better," Elizabeth replied honestly. "I am utterly biased when it comes to him, but I can think of no-one more deserving of happiness; I can also think of no-one better than Emily to be his wife."
"They would do very well together, I think," Darcy agreed thoughtfully. "Though we assume very much by having such a discussion," he pointed out. "They may just be friends."
"Perhaps," Elizabeth granted. "And I suppose there is little point in dwelling on it," she concluded briskly. "As I am determined not to interfere, however much I may wish to."
They shared a smile and slowly continued on with their walk; after a few minutes of companionable silence, Darcy looked down at his betrothed's bent head and asked, "Do you have any plans for tomorrow?"
"No, I don't think so," Elizabeth replied, looking up at him. "We have all been so preoccupied with the ball that nothing has been arranged to follow it."
"In that case," Darcy proposed. "Would you and your father, or perhaps Maria instead, like to come to Darcy House? You have yet to see all of it, and I should like to show you your rooms, so that you might arrange for any changes that you wish to make."
"I should like that very much," Elizabeth agreed softly. "Though I am sure the rooms are lovely as they are."
Darcy smiled, a little sadly Elizabeth thought, and replied, "It is kind of you to say so, but I fear that a redecoration is long overdue. The mistress's chambers in particular have not been done since my mother first married my father."
"Did they often come to town?" Elizabeth asked gently.
"No, not often," Darcy revealed. "They always came for the season but never stayed for long; they preferred to remain at Pemberley. I suspect we shall be quite like them, in that respect," he added with a warm look.
"And in others, I'm sure," Elizabeth replied; at his look she went on. "They were happy together, were they not?"
"Yes," Darcy smiled. "Very much so."
"As shall we," Elizabeth replied.
"I hope so," Darcy breathed, smiling tenderly.
"I know so," Elizabeth averred, making Darcy chuckle lightly.
"What were your parents like?" Elizabeth asked after a moment, finally asking the question that had long been on her mind. She smiled compassionately when Darcy's face took on a faraway look.
"I was still only young when my mother died," he eventually replied. "And I remember her as I'm sure all young boys are wont to remember their mothers- as always kind, caring, gentle and...soft. Everything about her was soft- her voice, her skin, her entire being. The contrast between her and my father was striking," he admitted with a smile. "He was a big man, tall and a bit ungainly, loud as well and yet married to my mother, such a gentle, delicate creature. I'm sure no-one would have put them together, and yet they were very happy with one another; they balanced each other out, I think."
"They sound lovely," Elizabeth replied gently.
"I wish that..." Darcy looked down at his feet and then back up at her. "They would have liked you."
Elizabeth smiled, "I hope so."
"I know so," Darcy quipped and Elizabeth laughed lightly. She sobered quickly and regarded her betrothed intently for a long moment. "What is it?" Darcy prompted.
"You truly are the best of men," she replied eventually. "To have suffered the loss of both of your parents, and to have become responsible for your sister and everything else when you were only a few years older than I am now- I do not know how you endured it."
"I did only what I had to," Darcy demurred. "Nothing more."
"That you see nothing remarkable in that proves my point, somewhat, I think," Elizabeth replied, resting her hand on his cheek. "You have done so well- your parents would be proud of the man you have become, I'm sure of it."
"Perhaps of the man I am now," Darcy granted. "But not of the man I was when we first met. I am better for loving you, Elizabeth."
"And I you," Elizabeth admitted; she closed her eyes and leaned into his touch as he drew her close for a lingering kiss.
If the weeks leading up to the ball had seemed to amble by at their own pace, the weeks following it flew past in a flurry of engagements, parties, dinners, outings and preparations for the two upcoming weddings. Before anyone of them knew it, the final week of Elizabeth and Lord Casterton's stay in town was upon them and it was time to say goodbye, and return home to Willoughby. The latter was undeniably keen to return to the peace and quiet of home, having had quite enough of town, but whilst Elizabeth was similarly pleased by the prospect of returning, her anticipation was somewhat dimmed by the knowledge that William would not be accompanying them back to Hertfordshire right away. He was to remain in town another week complete before joining them, so as to conclude any remaining business he had before his friend's wedding, and then his own. Elizabeth of course understood his desire to be free from distraction once in the country but it was still hard, having spent so much time together, facing the idea of a separation, however brief. Her one consolation was that once he joined them in Hertfordshire, their wedding would only be five weeks away.
The day of their departure finally arrived and Elizabeth rose early to see that their trunks were all packed and ready to go, and that they had not left anything behind. She and Darcy had said their goodbyes yesterday, in private, and her and her father had taken leave of the Fitzwilliam's and Richard, and everyone else, during the week- all that was left to do was travel home. Whilst she was checking her room for the final time before going down for breakfast, Alex appeared in the doorway and said,
"I suppose this is it, then."
"Yes," Elizabeth replied lightly, smiling as her friend came forward.
"The next time we see each other, you will leave a married woman," Alex pointed out, his smile not quite reaching his eyes. He appeared more resigned than happy.
"Yes," Elizabeth replied again, quietly. She stepped closer to her friend and looked intently up at him for a long moment, studying him. Eventually she reached up and cupped his cheek and said, "I will always love you, Alex, as one of my dearest friends. I know it will be different once I am married, and once you are married as well, but I hope that we will always be there for one another, and care for one another, if only as the very best of friends."
"We will," Alex replied, swallowing past the lump in his throat. "I'm sorry if I've..."
"Shhh," Elizabeth soothed him, "There's no reason for you to apologise."
"Liz," Alex hesitated before ploughing ahead. "I need to know; if you hadn't met Darcy, would you have considered me?"
"No," Elizabeth replied honestly. "You are and have always been too much like a brother to me for me to see you in that way. I cannot say whether that would have been the case had you remained in England instead of going to the continent, though I suspect it would have been. We know each other too well, I think," she concluded with a smile, "to truly love one another."
Alex smiled to himself and then sighed; he looked down at the beautiful woman before him and finally accepted the truth. "At least not as a husband and wife ought," he finally replied, "for I shall always love you as a friend."
"And I you," Elizabeth replied, leaning up and pressing a brief kiss to his cheek.
They went down to breakfast together and Elizabeth and her father sat down with the whole family for the last time. When it came time to say goodbye Elizabeth could not quite keep a hold on her emotions, particularly when Fred started crying as he said farewell, and shed quite a few tears. With promises to write and to see one another again soon, the Fraiser's said goodbye to their guests and watched as the Casterton's carriage disappeared into the distance. Inside, Elizabeth turned to her father for comfort as he cuddled her close and reminded her that they would see the Fraiser's again in a few weeks. Elizabeth of course knew this, but she dearly loved every member of the Fraiser family and had had a wonderful time with them and was thus sad to go.
The further they got from London, they more her spirits recovered, so much so that by the time the familiar scenery of Hertfordshire began to roll past the window, Elizabeth was quite eagerly anticipating their arrival at Willoughby. Her father teased her and accused her of being fickle, but his own sense of excitement was clear, as was his relief. There was an almost physical lightening the closer they drew to home and Elizabeth realised with a start how unhappy her father must have been in town. She felt immensely guilty for not have noticed, for having been so caught up in her engagement and engagements.
"You mustn't worry about me, dear," Lord Casterton assured her. "It was not wholly bad. I enjoyed becoming reacquainted with my old friends, and making a few new ones. I shall never be one for town in general, but on the whole I enjoyed myself much more than I expected to."
"At least we are nearly home now," Elizabeth pointed out, not much consoled by her father's reply. "And you need not return to town any time soon."
Lord Casterton chuckled, "No, no need at all. And I've had my fill of society for a few years at least."
"Will you visit Uncle Lewis again?" Elizabeth asked.
"Most probably," Lord Casterton agreed. "Either that or I shall invite them all to Willoughby. And of course I shall have to pay a visit to Pemberley, to see how you are settled in your new home," he pointed out before teasing, "If you will have me, of course."
"I daresay we could suffer you to visit us for a short while," Elizabeth teased in return. "A very short while."
"That is good to know," Lord Casterton replied, chuckling.
"Oh, look!" Elizabeth exclaimed suddenly. "It is Meryton- we are almost home!"
Their carriage rolled through the small town, with many resident's taking notice of their return, and was soon on the road to Willoughby; when they pulled up outside the house, Elizabeth quickly descended from the carriage and looked up at the familiar facade with a sigh of contentment.
"Home," she breathed with a happy smile.
"Home," Lord Casterton concurred, coming to stand beside her. "It is certainly nice to be back."
"Yes," Elizabeth agreed; she looked over at her father and tried to push aside the thought that these were the last few weeks they would spend together.
"Come," Lord Casterton intoned brightly. "Let us go in. How does tea and a game of chess sound?"
"Wonderful," Elizabeth replied, linking her arm with her fathers. He patted her hand affectionately and pressed a kiss to her forehead.
"It is good to be home," he breathed and then led her up the steps and into their home.
Posted on 2010-05-10
"You finally decided to come home, then."
Lord Casterton looked up from his paper and smiled broadly. "Thomas! I did not hear you. How are you, my friend?"
"As well as can be expected," Mr Bennet replied wryly; at his friends curious look he explained, "Besides your very infrequent letters I have not had two words of sense together since you and Lizzy and Jane left."
"I would be sorrier for that," Lord Casterton good-humouredly replied. "But you only have yourself to blame; I would have written more if I thought I would get a reply. You are an appalling correspondent Thomas."
"Yes, well," Mr Bennet smiled to himself and then asked, "So, how was his grace? And the rest of the family?"
"Very well," Lord Casterton replied as he indicated his friend should take a seat, taking the one beside it. "Maria is a beautiful as ever, Alex is a tall, strapping young man, Sophia is quickly becoming a young woman and Fred is as rambunctious as ever."
"How delightful," Mr Bennet quipped with a chuckle. "I am glad to hear they are well. And Elizabeth?" He asked, looking around. "Did she enjoy herself?"
"Yes," Lord Casterton confirmed, smiling a tad wistfully.
"We knew this was coming," Mr Bennet pointed out sagely. "Since the day they were born. Fitting, is it not, that they shall be married so closely together?"
"Yes," Lord Casterton agreed. "And both to men so perfectly suited to them. A happy ending indeed."
"End?" Mr Bennet repeated, one brow arched. "A beginning, I would say. A new chapter, to use a worn out phrase. Certainly, they shall be leaving our homes and shall owe their loyalty to their husbands, but there will be grandchildren, possibly great-grandchildren if we are particularly stubborn. Personally, I am looking forward to it."
Lord Casterton sighed and smiled at his old friend. "I am loathe to admit this Thomas, but sometimes you have an uncanny ability to say exactly what I need to hear."
"I speak as I find, my friend," Mr Bennet replied simply. "And you appear to be prematurely mourning the loss of your daughter."
"Perhaps I am," Lord Casterton granted thoughtfully. "I shall be lost without her..." he murmured, looking about the room.
"You are not losing her," Mr Bennet reminded him firmly. "I know that Elizabeth has been your sole focus for all these years Michael," he went on kindly, "but life goes on. You'll see. And you must remember to think of all the good things that will come as a result of your daughter's marriage."
"I will try," Lord Casterton avowed; he was prevented from saying more by the appearance of the subject of their conversation, who smiled upon seeing who her father's guest was.
"Mr Bennet," Elizabeth greeted him happily. "How lovely to see you. You are well?"
"Perfectly so, Lizzy," Mr Bennet fondly replied, noticing the slight changes to the young woman in front of him. "And you?"
"I am very well," Elizabeth assured him. She smiled at her father and then looked back at Mr Bennet. "You are very eager, sir. We only arrived this morning."
"I know," Mr Bennet admitted before pretending to complain, "But you've been away so darn long!"
Lord Casterton and Elizabeth laughed at his teasing before the latter asked after Jane, who had returned from town a week earlier.
"Oh, Jane is well enough," Mr Bennet replied lightly. "Enduring my wife's fluttering as only she can."
"And how are the wedding preparations coming along?" Lord Casterton asked, shooting Elizabeth a look when she frowned slightly at Mr Bennet's offhanded manner.
"Well enough, I believe," Mr Bennet replied. "I do not concern myself with such things; all I need do is turn up on the day."
"Yes, well," Lord Casterton hummed, ignoring his daughter's arch look and his friend's careless disregard. "I suspect Mr Bingley has been a frequent visitor?"
"Every day so far," Mr Bennet confirmed with a chuckle. "And his sister has been to call quite often as well- Miss Bingley is conspicuously absent, though."
"I daresay she is being kept busy with her aunt," Elizabeth replied lightly. "And it is a very long way to travel from Scarborough to here to simply turn around and go back again."
"You think my daughter and her ardent suitor would deny her their hospitality?" Mr Bennet challenged, his lips twisted in wry amusement.
"I think they will be newlywed, and should not have to," Elizabeth retorted, taking any sting out of her words with a smile.
"Quite so," Mr Bennet replied easily.
"How is the rest of your family, Thomas?" Lord Casterton asked.
"Oh, well enough," Mr Bennet casually replied. "My wife is determined to organise the wedding of the century and Lydia and Kitty seem quite happy to help her."
"And Mary?" Elizabeth prompted when he fell silent.
Mr Bennet shrugged, "She seems quite happy keeping company with Fordyce, as always."
Elizabeth opened her mouth to reply but was forestalled by her father lightly laying his hand on her arm; she looked away and allowed him to steer the conversation away from the Bennet family and onto any news of the neighbourhood.
When Mr Bennet finally took his leave and promised to give his best to his family, Elizabeth and Lord Casterton shared a long look.
"Why does he seem worse than I remember?" Elizabeth asked eventually, flopping into a nearby chair.
"You are comparing him to the Fraisers I suspect, and the Gardiners," Lord Casterton replied as he took his seat in a more dignified manner.
"Yes," Elizabeth admitted; she smiled wryly, "They are not perfect, but overlooking their son in the preparation for a ball is not quite the same thing as seemingly forgetting one of their children all together. I cannot believe I had to remind him about Mary!" She exclaimed indignantly.
Lord Casterton chuckled, "She does tend to fade into the background somewhat Lizzy; what with her being so quiet, and the middle child."
"That is no excuse," Elizabeth argued stubbornly.
"I know it is not," Lord Casterton calmly replied. "But perhaps with Jane leaving home, more attention will be paid to the other three," he suggested optimistically.
Elizabeth nodded and became thoughtful; her father watched her for a few minutes and then asked, "What is it?"
"You have spoiled me, I think," she replied with a smile. "With your undivided attention."
"Perhaps," Lord Casterton granted. "But if I have, it was as much for my own benefit as it was for yours. I have enjoyed being the first man in your affections," he admitted with a soft smile.
Elizabeth would have liked to assure him that that was still the case, but both knew it wasn't and she said instead, "You will always hold a special place in my heart, papa, you know that. And please do not think it will be easy for me to put William ahead of you," she added with a slight frown. "Indeed, I dread ever having to."
"It is inevitable," Lord Casterton replied wisely. "As his wife your first loyalty must be to him, and I understand that. It will just take us some getting used to, that's all."
Elizabeth nodded but remained silent and Lord Casterton decided a change in subject was in order.
"Do you happen to know what Miss Darcy plans to do after the wedding?" He asked lightly.
"I believe her aunt and uncle have invited her to spend a few weeks with them at Matlock before joining us at Pemberley for Christmas," Elizabeth replied. "Why?"
"Does she seem happy with that arrangement?" Lord Casterton asked, ignoring the question for now.
"I believe she is pleased at the thought of spending more time with Richard," Elizabeth admitted thoughtfully, "but does not relish the prospect of spending so long a time with her aunt and uncle. I did not tell you that though," she added with a grin.
Lord Casterton smiled and nodded and Elizabeth went on,
"I would quite happily have her accompany William and I to Pemberley straight after the wedding, but she seemed uncomfortable with the idea."
"She no doubt wishes to give the pair of you some privacy," Lord Casterton predicted before adding with a smile, "and whilst you and Darcy are too good to say so, you undoubtedly wish for the same thing as well."
"We do," Elizabeth granted quietly, smiling shyly.
"What if I invited her here?" Lord Casterton proposed. He smiled at his daughter's surprised look. "I admit I have become quite fond of her, and she will have Jane and the Bennet girls, and Maria Lucas to keep her entertained. It is just a thought," he concluded with a shrug.
"It is a lovely thought," Elizabeth replied. "I shall speak to her and William about it; thank you papa."
"You're welcome," Lord Casterton replied, thinking that he did not deserve too much thanks. He was truly fond of Miss Darcy but also knew that he had an ulterior motive in extending the invitation- he did not wish to be alone.
In the days following their return, Elizabeth and her father spent a lot of their time receiving visitors who had come to welcome them back to the neighbourhood, and to congratulate Elizabeth on her engagement. If they were surprised by her good fortune they hid it well, with the exception perhaps of Mrs Bennet, who likely would have been quite insufferable had not her own daughter had the good fortune of making such an advantageous match. Jane and Elizabeth spent much time together, usually at Willoughby, away from the excitable Mrs Bennet and her endless preparations for the wedding. Emily sometimes joined them, and together they spent many a pleasant, calm afternoon, and the week up until the arrival of William and his sister passed away quite happily.
Elizabeth and her father stood on the steps to the house, watching with matching smiles as the Darcy's carriage pulled up and the occupants stepped out. Elizabeth went to meet her betrothed and, under the watchful eye of her father, Darcy bent and kissed her hand. He assisted his sister from the carriage, and then Mrs Annesley, and then turned to his host and bowed.
"Welcome back to Willoughby, Darcy," Lord Casterton greeted him jovially. "And you as well, Miss Darcy. I hope your journey was pleasant?"
"A little longer than expected," Georgiana replied. "The roads were not good following the rain and we had to stop twice, didn't we brother."
"We did," Darcy confirmed. "I fear we have had the last of the warm weather," he added with a glance up at the sky which was indeed looking rather grey and dreary, typically for the time of year.
"Well, you are here now. And let us hope the weather co-operates next week," Lord Casterton replied cheerfully. "Come, let us go in."
He offered his arm to Georgiana and led her up the steps as Darcy and Elizabeth followed behind.
"Was everything concluded to your satisfaction?" Elizabeth asked, referring to the business that had kept him in town.
"Yes," Darcy assured her. "You shall have my undivided attention for the next six weeks at least," he teased lightly.
Elizabeth smiled and they entered the house, following the other two into a parlour where the tea things were laid out. She did her duty as hostess, serving her guests and then her father, and Darcy was struck by the pleasant domesticity of the scene, imagining her fulfilling just such a duty as mistress of Pemberley.
It was with some surprise that Darcy found himself staying under the same roof of his betrothed, but he and Lord Casterton had realised that this was perhaps the best solution for all involved. Bingley of course had extended an invitation for Darcy and his sister to stay at Netherfield for as long as they wished to, indeed up until Darcy's own wedding if that was the case. Darcy, however, had been conscious of the fact that Bingley was to marry first, and despite his offer would no doubt wish to enjoy his first few weeks of married life in privacy. With this in mind, Darcy had approached Lord Casterton with a request for his sister to stay at Willoughby whilst he found himself a room at the nearest inn. Lord Casterton, however, after extracting Darcy's promise that he could be trusted under the same roof as Elizabeth, invited him to stay at Willoughby as well, and so that is where he now found himself.
Just as they were all settling down with their cups of tea, Emily appeared and Darcy rose again to greet her.
"The room was to your liking?" Lord Casterton asked as his friend accepted her own cup from Elizabeth.
"Very much so," Emily assured him as Darcy looked at Elizabeth and noticing that she tried not to laugh.
"Emily shall be staying with us," Lord Casterton informed his guests, looking intently at Darcy who managed to keep his expression impassive. "Until the wedding."
"How lovely," Georgiana enthused; she did not know Emily all that well but the elder lady seemed kind and very motherly. "I am sure we shall be such a happy party."
"Indeed," Elizabeth replied, smiling at her betrothed who looked down at his teacup, his lips twitching.
Later, whilst walking around the garden, trailed closely by Georgiana and Mrs Annesley and within full view of the house, Darcy returned to the subject of Emily's stay, amusement warming his voice.
"I was not aware that Mrs Burrows had been invited to stay."
Elizabeth laughed lightly and grinned up at him, "She had not been as of two days ago. I think my father had second thoughts about being so magnanimous and decided we needed yet another chaperone."
"I think I would be insulted," Darcy joked lightly, thinking of the promise Lord Casterton had demanded of him, "but I daresay he is probably right."
Elizabeth blushed but still playfully argued, "I do not see why we cannot be trusted; we have lasted this long, and the wedding is not far away."
"That, my love," Darcy pointed out intently, "is exactly why."
"Perhaps you are right," Elizabeth quietly replied; they shared a long look before she pulled her eyes away and Darcy cleared his throat and took a deep breath.
"Five weeks, Elizabeth; just five weeks," he murmured and felt her squeeze his arm and rest her cheek against his shoulder.
"What do you think of my father's proposal to have Georgiana stay here with him after the wedding?" Elizabeth asked after a few moments, looking back to see that his sister and her companion had stopped to admire something in the distance.
"It is very kind of him to offer," Darcy replied. "But I shall speak to Georgie and leave it to her to decide for herself what she wants to do. They do get on well together though, don't they?" He noted fondly, watching his sister for a moment before looking back at Elizabeth. "I think he reminds her of our father."
Elizabeth smiled brilliantly at the compliment he had just paid to her father, knowing how highly William regarded his own.
"Of course if she did stay," Darcy went on. "They could travel together to join us for Christmas, which would work out rather well." Noting Elizabeth's look of surprise, he smiled bemusedly, "What?"
"You have invited papa for Christmas?" Elizabeth asked.
"Well no, not yet," Darcy admitted lightly. "I simply assumed that we would all spend Christmas together at Pemberley. Do you wish to come here instead?" He questioned suddenly, worriedly. "I'm sorry that I did not consider it, I..."
He stopped when Elizabeth placed two fingers on his lips and looked at him with adoration.
"Christmas at Pemberley will be wonderful," she assured him. "More so with my father there. I had not thought that you would..." she trailed off and smiled to herself as she admitted. "I am still getting used to the idea that you welcome him so wholeheartedly as part of our family, I suppose."
"Elizabeth," Darcy breathed, reaching up and taking her hand. "You know how much I respect your father; indeed, I regard him as a very good friend. And even were that not the case, he would still be welcome at Pemberley because I know how much he means to you. As it is, I very much look forward to hosting him, along with the rest of the family," he concluded with a smile.
Elizabeth nodded and smiled, completely reassured by William's words, as he had intended her to be. They waited for Georgiana and Mrs Annesley to join them and the foursome continued on their walk around the garden.
From his vantage point inside, Lord Casterton watched their progress with a slight smile upon his face. Emily came to stand beside him and he looked down at her as he noted, "The beginnings of a new family."
"Yes," Emily agreed, also smiling as she watched the group go by. She turned to look up at her friend. "How are you, Michael?"
"As well as can be expected," Lord Casterton replied. He smiled and admitted, "Glad that you are here, though."
"To help you keep an eye on those two?" Emily teased with a nod towards Darcy and Elizabeth.
"Yes," Lord Casterton replied with a chuckle. "But also to keep me company. Elizabeth is so happy, so impatient to wed...it seems I am alone in wishing we had more time together," he lamented quietly.
"That's nonsense," Emily replied briskly. "She is young and in love, to be sure, but you do her a disservice in thinking that she is anxious to be rid of you. Nothing could be further from the truth."
"I'm sorry," Lord Casterton replied, chastened. "You are right, of course."
Emily nodded, mollified, and went back to studying the view from the window. After a few moments she felt Lord Casterton's gaze upon her and looked up at him.
"Thank you for this, Emily," he stated sincerely. "For everything."
"You're welcome," Emily replied lightly and then looked away quickly before she embarrassed herself by blushing.
On the morning of the third day of his stay at Willoughby, Darcy entered the breakfast parlour to find Lord Casterton sat alone. His host looked up upon his entrance and smiled his welcome.
"I am sure the ladies shall be joining us soon enough," he said, setting aside the paper he had been reading.
"Is Elizabeth outside?" Darcy asked as he prepared his plate of food; it had rained yesterday and the day before but today seemed bright and clear.
"Of course," Lord Casterton chuckled as Darcy came over to take a seat. "Where else? The sun is shining."
Darcy smiled as he sat down, his eyes drifting to Lord Casterton's simple breakfast of toast and a variety of fruit.
"Are you well, my lord?" He asked suddenly. "Your health, I mean," he elaborated.
"I feel very well," Lord Casterton replied easily. "Better even than I did when we first met," he admitted with a smile. "No doubt this new diet is helping, but I confess seeing Elizabeth so happily matched has taken a weight off my mind."
"I shall take good care of her," Darcy promised.
"Of that I am well aware," Lord Casterton replied just in time for the lady herself to enter the room, followed closely by Emily who had just been coming down the stairs as Elizabeth returned from her walk.
"Good morning papa," Elizabeth greeted him brightly, going to him and pressing a quick kiss to his cheek. "Good morning, Mr Darcy," she greeted him with a matching smile, though Darcy wished he could have a kiss as well.
"You are in a good mood this morning," Lord Casterton observed as Elizabeth took her seat next to her father, and opposite Darcy.
"I am always in a good mood when the sun shines," Elizabeth teased, stealing a bit of her father's toast and popping it in her mouth with an impertinent grin.
Lord Casterton chuckled at his daughter's high spirits before turning his attention back to the rest of his breakfast. Georgiana joined them not soon after with a blush and timid smile at being the last to rise.
"Good morning, poppet," Darcy greeted her when she sat down next to him.
"Good morning," she replied quietly. "I'm sorry I'm so late."
"Not at all," Elizabeth assured her lightly. "We've only just sat down. And we were all quite late to bed last night so I daresay you need make no excuses," she added; they had played charades after dinner and in their enjoyment had not realised how late the hour had grown.
"What are your plans for today?" Lord Casterton addressed the three young people collectively. "Outdoor pursuits, no doubt," he added with a grin.
Elizabeth smiled and then looked between the Darcy siblings. "Would you like to go riding?"
"Riding?" Both Darcy and Lord Casterton repeated, the former in a surprised tone, the latter in a somewhat more alarmed manner.
"Yes, riding," Elizabeth replied with a laugh at their reactions. "I daresay we shall be able to find Georgiana a mount that suits her," she went on happily. "And it is truly a lovely day- it would be a shame to waste it."
"That sounds wonderful," Georgiana agreed before glancing at her brother, and then Lord Casterton, and noticing their frowns. "If that is alright..." she added uncertainly.
"When were you last on a horse, Lizzy?" Lord Casterton asked his daughter pointedly.
"Last week," Elizabeth replied, looking pleased with herself. "I went for a short ride whilst you were visiting Sir William."
"And before that?" He father prompted.
"In London, with Alex," Elizabeth replied again, her lips twitching.
"And before that?" Lord Casterton sighed, arching his brow at his daughter and pinning her with his most fatherly look.
"Oh, at least a year ago," Elizabeth breezily replied, waving her hand. She laughed lightly. "I am not suggesting we go for a wild ride across the countryside, papa. I can manage a leisurely ride around the estate."
Lord Casterton did not appear particularly reassured by this and Emily bit back a smile at his protective nature as she turned to Darcy and said, "You will watch over Elizabeth, won't you Mr Darcy?"
"Of course," Darcy replied readily. He looked at his host as he added, "I would not let any harm come to her."
"I am not a child, you know," Elizabeth pointed out, somewhat piqued. "I do not require a minder."
"I do wonder sometimes," Lord Casterton muttered to himself, not intending to be overheard.
Elizabeth gasped and laughingly replied, "Papa! I heard that."
Georgiana giggled into her napkin and Darcy and Emily grinned as Lord Casterton had the grace to look somewhat embarrassed; eventually he also smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "Well, it's true," he pointed out. "I shall happily hand over responsibility for you in a months time; let your husband fret about you instead," he teased as Elizabeth and the others laughed.
Eventually it was decided that the trio would indeed go riding and after breakfast both Elizabeth and Georgiana went to change their dresses. Lord Casterton had business with his steward and Emily was to visit a friend in Meryton, and so Darcy was left alone in the front hall to wait for his two ladies. Elizabeth was the first to reappear, attired in a form fitting dark green riding habit, cut in the latest style. With a smile she descended the stairs and walked over to her betrothed,
"Do you like it?" She asked lightly, running her hands over the curve of her hips, accentuated by her jacket. "I had it made in town."
Darcy had to clear his throat to reply.
"It's very...nice," he just about managed, sending up a small prayer that only the top half was so snugly fitted, whilst the skirt billowed out and left everything else to the imagination; he would no doubt have been reduced to a blathering idiot, were that not the case.
"I'm so glad you think so," Elizabeth replied coyly, battering her eyelashes at him.
Darcy chuckled at her little game. "Minx," he accused playfully. "Just wait until I get you alone..." he whispered, seeing his sister coming down the stairs behind them.
"With so many chaperones round about," Elizabeth whispered in reply, "I do not see how you will manage such a thing."
Darcy just smiled to himself and then turned to greet his sister as she joined them.
It rained the day Jane Bennet married Charles Bingley, but nothing short of a flood washing away the church could have spoiled the day for them, so happy were they to finally commit their lives to one another. Elizabeth arrived early in the morning at Longbourn to assist her friend in any way she could only to find the house in uproar, Mrs Bennet's exclamations audible to her even before she had stepped inside. Fortunately the Gardiners had travelled to Hertfordshire for the wedding and Mrs Gardiner was able to distract Mrs Bennet long enough to allow Elizabeth some time alone with Jane.
"I am so glad you're here, Lizzy," her friend breathed, a touch of nervousness seeping into her otherwise happy smile. "Today would not feel right without you."
"I would not miss this for the world," Elizabeth replied sincerely, smiling at the picture Jane presented in her simple, light gown. "You look beautiful, Jane."
"Do you think so?" Jane asked as her maid put the finishing touches to her hair.
"Yes," Elizabeth assured her, tears coming unbidden to her eyes for some unknown reason. Pure happiness, perhaps. "Utterly beautiful. Mr Bingley is a very lucky man, Jane."
"I think that I am the lucky one," Jane replied quietly. She smiled at her friend. "Do you remember when we were little, when we used to dream about marrying one day?"
"I do," Elizabeth replied, smiling also. "We always said that we would marry together, and only to men whom we loved completely."
"We were close," Jane joked lightly and Elizabeth smiled her agreement. "Things have turned out even better than I'd dared to hope," Jane whispered happily.
"And yet as well as you deserve," Elizabeth replied, earning herself an affectionate smile from her friend.
"I shall miss you when you are gone, Lizzy," Jane admitted after a moment. "Derbyshire seems so very far away."
"I know," Elizabeth sighed before brightening and adding, "But you know that you and Mr Bingley will always be welcome. And the wedding is still a month away," she pointed out, just as Jane's maid proclaimed that she was ready.
"Do I really look alright, Lizzy?" Jane asked nervously as she stood up and turned to her.
"Yes, Jane," Elizabeth assured her patiently. "You look wonderful." She stepped forward and gave her friend a gentle hug. "I am so happy for you."
Drawing back, she saw tears in her friend's eyes and teased, "Oh, no, we cannot have that! No tears Jane, dearest, otherwise your mother will be quite cross with you I'm sure."
As if on cue, Mrs Bennet bustled into the room and prompted screeched, "Oh, Jane! Jane! Look how beautiful you are! I knew you could not be so beautiful for nothing! Mrs Bingley, how well that sounds!"
And then she was gone again, exclaiming about their good fortune whilst calling for Hill and her smelling salts. In the silence she left in her wake, Elizabeth and Jane shared a slightly dazed look before the former began to smile and they both dissolved into laughter.
Whilst Elizabeth was with her friend, Darcy was with his own, smiling patiently as Bingley bounced about his study at Netherfield in a fit of nervous energy. He could not seem to sit still and his conversation was even more disjointed than usual as his mind leapt from one topic to another, seemingly at random. In the end, Darcy poured him a hefty glass of brandy and thrust it into Bingley's hand.
"Drink this, sit down, and be quiet, please, for five minutes at least," he instructed his friend with a grin.
Bingley knocked back most of the fiery alcohol in one gulp, coughed and smiled gratefully up at Darcy when he gave him a pat on the back.
"I don't know why I am so nervous," he said, setting down his glass as Darcy took the seat next to his.
"Last minute doubts?" Darcy suggested, just to get a response out of Bingley.
"Certainly not!" Bingley indignantly replied. "I have never been more certain of anything in my life!"
"Lingering uncertainty about Miss Bennet's feelings, perhaps? Or your feelings for her?" Darcy proposed, trying not to grin.
"Never!" Bingley retorted. "I love Jane more than anything, and I know that she loves me."
"Then you are worried about your future together," Darcy concluded as though the matter was decided.
"Not at all," Bingley resolutely declared. "We shall be very happy, I know it."
"Then what are you worrying about?" Darcy asked with an arched brow.
Bingley looked at his friend as comprehension slowly dawned; he chuckled and shook his head. "Well played, Darcy, well played."
Darcy patted his friend's shoulder and grinned. "You're welcome."
The wedding itself was a small affair. On Bingley's side there was only his sister and Hurst, and Darcy and Georgiana, whilst on Jane's there was her family and the Casterton's, and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, and Mr and Mrs Long. Elizabeth and Darcy stood to either side of the bride and groom and, as their friends repeated their vows, shared a long look as they flashed forward to their own wedding. When it came to the exchange of rings, Elizabeth was so overcome with happy emotion that she cried quite openly and absently wished that she had thought to bring a handkerchief. Fortunately Mr Bennet seemed to have come ready with a large supply for his wife, who had been crying since Jane entered the church, and discretely passed one to Elizabeth for her to use.
All too soon the ceremony was complete, and Bingley was smiling like a proud fool and Jane was blushing and smiling as well, and Mrs Bennet was still crying as the newlywed Mr and Mrs Charles Bingley went to sign the register, accepting the congratulations and well wishes of their friends and family as they passed them. Darcy and Elizabeth hung back and Elizabeth allowed him to put his arm around her waist and draw her closer to his side; when he offered her his own handkerchief to go with the one she already had, Elizabeth chuckled tearfully and smiled up at him.
"You're not going to be like this at our wedding, are you?" He asked playfully.
"I hope not," Elizabeth replied with a light laugh as she wiped away the last few tears. "Though you shouldn't worry if I am; they are happy tears after all."
Darcy smiled and pressed an affectionate kiss to her forehead; seeing that the rest of the wedding party were preparing to leave the church and head to Longbourn, he offered Elizabeth his arm and went to collect his sister. She was with Lord Casterton, and she and Elizabeth switched places before they all left the church and walked the short way to Longbourn, the rain having lightened to a barely perceivable drizzle.
Mrs Bennet was nothing if not a consummate hostess and she had laid out a typically fine spread for her daughter's wedding breakfast. The majority of the neighbourhood families were present and the house was full almost to the limit with family and friends all eager to share this day with the married couple. It was the first time since returning to Hertfordshire that Elizabeth had been in company with the entire Bennet family and it was with a resigned sigh that she noticed that neither Lydia nor Kitty seemed to have changed at all- evidently Mr Bennet had not followed through on his resolution to curb their behaviour. She made a point of speaking to Mary, wondering what would become of her now that Jane would be gone, knowing that she was the only one whom really paid any attention to Mary.
Sir William and Lady Lucas were naturally also in attendance and Elizabeth spoke to them at length about Charlotte and how she fared, delighted at the news that her friend was to have a baby. Whilst she could never truly condone the choice her friend had made, Elizabeth certainly felt that she could understand it better now and sincerely wished Charlotte every happiness in her married life, even if her chosen husband was a complete fool.
When it eventually came time for the Bingley's to leave, the Bennet family and their closest friends gathered outside to say farewell, even though Netherfield was but a few miles away, and they would all see each other again very soon.
Elizabeth, stood with her father and the two Darcy siblings, was quite content to wait until last to wish her friend well and remained cheerful and composed; she had shed her tears in the church after all and felt nothing but pleasant anticipation for the future. She smiled when Jane came to her and embraced her lifelong friend warmly.
"Congratulations, Mrs Bingley," she said, causing Jane to blush and smile. "I imagine that shall take some getting used to," she teased playfully. "It suits you well, though."
"I think so," Jane replied happily with a loving look at her new husband who was beaming and vigorously shaking Darcy's hand as he accepted his congratulations. "You will come and visit us soon at Netherfield, won't you Lizzy?"
"Of course," Elizabeth assured her lightly before adding in a slightly quieter tone. "Though I shall leave you in peace for a few days."
Jane blushed again but her smile remained and Elizabeth was once again struck by a wave of pure, unadulterated happiness for her friend. When Mr Bingley appeared at his wife's side Elizabeth extended her congratulations to him as well, as did Georgiana and Lord Casterton, and before they knew it the newly married couple had entered the carriage and were waved off as they rolled away from Longbourn. As Mr Bennet consoled his wife, Lord Casterton suggested that it was perhaps time for their party to also take their leave and they said goodbye to their hosts (with many compliments to Mrs Bennet on the fine event she had organised) whilst their carriage was brought round.
"Goodness," Elizabeth sighed once they were in the carriage and on their way back to Willoughby. "What a day. Didn't Jane look wonderful?" She breathed happily as Georgiana nodded her agreement and added that she thought Mr Bingley looked very fine in his blue coat.
"That shall be you soon enough," Lord Casterton pointed out with an affectionate smile as he looked between his daughter and Darcy.
"Yes," Darcy agreed absently, his eyes on Elizabeth as she sat across from him and held his gaze with her own. "One month from now."
Lord Casterton looked between the two of them and then at Georgiana; he rolled his eyes in an exaggerated fashion and she giggled, though the lovesick pair beside her remained quite oblivious to everything but each other.
Posted on 2010-12-01
Darcy looked up from the letter he was writing and Georgiana and Emily looked up from their embroidery as Elizabeth, from her place at the window, exclaimed, "Oh, will this rain never cease!"
Since Jane's wedding a week and a half ago it had continued to rain almost non-stop and though they had visited Jane at her new home and been visited in return, and had even braved a brief trip into Meryton, Elizabeth was fed up of being stuck indoors.
"Eventually, I'm sure," Darcy replied, leaning back in his chair and looking at her with an amused expression. "In its own time."
He smiled when she glared at him in response and then turned back to his letter to his cousin; heaving a resigned sigh, Elizabeth returned to her seat and picked up the book she had been attempting to read.
"I am sure you will be able to go out again soon enough," Emily spoke up, her eyes still on her embroidery. "And remember we are scheduled to go into Meryton on Thursday, and have been invited to the Lucas's tomorrow evening."
"Lord Casterton and I have been invited to go shooting with Bingley on Thursday," Darcy pointed out, abandoning his letter once again as he turned to the ladies.
"We know," Elizabeth replied primly. "That is why we chose Thursday to go to Meryton."
"Well, I can certainly tell when I'm not wanted," Darcy joked and went back to his letter, though he wondered what took them into town; fortunately his sister provided the answer when she said,
"I cannot wait to see your dress, Elizabeth. Do you think it will be finished?"
"I certainly hope so," Elizabeth replied, only half joking. "Never has so much thought and effort gone into a simple gown! I shall have to wear it at least twenty times to justify it all."
Before Georgiana could reply, Emily spoke up, "Is that a carriage I can hear?"
"Yes, I believe it is," Elizabeth replied, rising once more and going to the window. She watched for who their visitor was with a feeling of pleasant anticipation that was abruptly dashed upon seeing her uncle climb from the carriage. "Oh, lord."
"Lizzy," Emily chastised her as Darcy and Georgiana both looked at her with surprise. She flushed and apologised for her language.
"Who is it?" Darcy asked curiously.
"My uncle," Elizabeth replied, leaving the window and walking to her seat; she heavily sat back down and plucked at her skirts restlessly.
"Has he been here since...?" Emily asked delicately, remembering Elizabeth's unpleasant encounter with her uncle when her father had been taken ill.
"No," Elizabeth replied quietly, eyes down. She sighed resignedly as she added, "You know he only comes here when money is involved. He must be short on funds again."
As Emily looked on in sympathy, Georgiana shifted uncomfortably in her seat and Darcy regarded her with a perturbed frown, Elizabeth stared at her hands and tried to push aside the awful memories Robert's unexpected appearance had stirred up, most especially those associated with her father's illness but also those from a much earlier, unhappier time. Those she had done her best to try to forgot. Abruptly standing up, she avoided looking at any of her three companions as she mumbled a quick, "pray, excuse me," and hurried from the room.
"Elizabeth," Darcy called after her, rising from his seat. He was momentarily torn between going after her and adhering to the dictates of propriety, but one encouraging look from Emily was all that was needed to send him from the room as well.
"Oh," Georgiana worriedly watched her brother go. "Is Lizzy alright?" She asked Emily with concern.
"Do not trouble yourself my dear," Emily assured her kindly. "Elizabeth and her uncle, they...they have a difficult relationship. And the last time he was here was when Lord Casterton was ill- no doubt Elizabeth is just upset by the reminder of that time, that's all."
Georgiana accepted this explanation with a slow nod and, following Emily's example, picked up her embroidery once again, though she could not really muster much concentration.
Elizabeth was already halfway up the stairs by the time Darcy followed after her and he took the steps two at a time to catch up with her. A few feet away from her room she abruptly stopped and turned to face him,
"You should not have followed me, I am simply going to my room to fetch something," she lied with admirable composure. "Go back to the others."
"No," Darcy stubbornly replied, taking her hand and leading her the rest of the way. He opened the door to her chamber and propelled her inside ahead of him, entering himself and then shutting the door firmly behind them.
"If anyone saw us..." Elizabeth cautioned him, "If my father finds out..."
"He won't," Darcy assured her calmly. He regarded her intently for a moment before quietly asking, "Will you tell me what is wrong?"
"There is nothing," Elizabeth began to deny but Darcy interrupted her.
"Please, Elizabeth," he entreated. "I can see that there is."
Turning away, Elizabeth walked to her window and starred out at the rain, her arms wrapped protectively around her middle. She felt him come to stand behind her and sighed when he laid his hands on her shoulders.
"Do you remember," she began with great reluctance, "on the day you proposed, when I said that I had many things I needed to tell you?"
"Yes," Darcy replied gently, slowly drawing her back against his chest, his arm winding around her waist, his hand settling atop of hers. "And I told you I would wait until you were ready."
"I had forgotten," Elizabeth admitted in a quiet voice. "But seeing Robert reminded me."
"Elizabeth," Darcy murmured comfortingly. "You need not..."
"No, I do," she argued with a shake of her head. "I need to; if only to remove the possibility of your hearing the truth from someone else," she added darkly.
"What truth?" Darcy asked carefully.
Elizabeth took a fortifying breath and then before she could lose her nerve stated, "My mother and Robert had an affair."
She felt Darcy stiffen and tighten his hold upon her but he did not say anything and so she continued, "I do not know for how long, or when it started but there is a possibility...a chance..." her voice broke and she allowed Darcy to turn her in his arms, hiding her face against his chest. He just held her in silence and eventually she brokenly admitted, "She told me that Robert is my father."
Darcy's arms tightened almost painfully around her as he harshly replied, "Your father is your father." Evidently realising how foolish that sounded, he made a sound of frustration and added, "Lord Casterton, the man who raised you, who loves you completely. He is your father."
"I know," Elizabeth assured him, raising her head and looking up at him. "I know that. And even if Robert is...it would not change anything between my father and me."
Darcy nodded but was silent, his expression stony. Biting her lip, Elizabeth looked at him with wide eyes. "William?" She whispered uncertainly.
"Does your father know?" Darcy asked with a pained frown.
"No. I do not think so," Elizabeth replied as the tears which had been threatening began to fall. "I pray not. I have never told him."
"Who else knows?"
"Mr Bennet," Elizabeth admitted; at his surprised look she explained what her father's friend had told her.
"And your uncle?" Darcy prompted seriously. "Does he know?"
Elizabeth shook her head.
"He knows that I know about the affair," she confessed. "It is why he avoids coming here, why we do not get along well. But he does not seem to have realised the possibility that I may be his..." she trailed off and shook her head.
"But he may do, one day," Darcy surmised grimly when she fell silent.
"Yes," Elizabeth replied weakly.
Darcy fell silent as he considered the possible repercussions this could have, the effect it could have on their family, on Lord Casterton if the truth ever got out. He had been thus occupied for some time when he realised with a start that Elizabeth was still crying, looking at him with a heart wrenching combination of hope and fear. Breathing her name, he cupped her face between his hands and kissed her.
"I love you," he whispered fervently between kisses. "This changes nothing."
Elizabeth kissed him back, holding him fiercely to her while sobs racked her body. Upset by her tears Darcy dragged his mouth from hers, kissing her wet cheeks and running his hands over her shaking back and shoulders, trying to comfort her. "Please Elizabeth, don't cry anymore," he pleaded. "Please don't."
"I'm sorry," she hiccupped, trying to reign in her emotions. "It's just so horrible. All of it. How could she do that to him?" She asked plaintively. "His own brother!"
"I don't know," Darcy replied honestly, holding her close.
They fell silent for some time, simply holding one another until Elizabeth quietly asked, "Do you...? Was I right to tell you?"
"Yes," Darcy breathed. "I would not have you carry this burden alone."
"It is a burden then," Elizabeth replied dispiritedly, wondering how the truth would colour his perception of her.
Darcy reached down and tipped her chin up so that she was looking at him as he firmly clarified, "The burden of a secret kept from your father; that's all. I do not care what your mother said about it," he went on resolutely. "You are Lord Casterton's daughter and that is the end of it."
Unexpectedly, Elizabeth smiled and chuckled lightly. "I do love you sometimes," she told him, stroking his cheek. His stubbornness was really quite heartening.
Darcy smiled. "I shall not ask what you mean by that," he replied with tender playfulness. "I have a feeling it would result in your teasing me, as usual."
"Perhaps a little," Elizabeth agreed softly, her fingertips tracing the familiar lines of his face. She drew him down for a gentle kiss. "I love you, William."
They kissed passionately for several minutes until Darcy groaned inaudibly and with a shake of his head pulled himself away, afraid of giving into temptation. Elizabeth looked at him uncertainly and he smiled and reassured her, "However sorely I am tempted to continue- and I assure you, I am extremely tempted- now is not the time or place."
Elizabeth nodded and looked relieved and Darcy regarded her curiously; seeing his look she averted her eyes and admitted, "I thought I had been too...forward."
"Entirely too forward," Darcy agreed with a smile; when she quickly looked at him he added meaningfully, "for an unmarried lady, at least. Now, if we were married..." he trailed off with a roguish grin and Elizabeth blushed and smiled shyly, pleased. Her behaviour and responses felt only natural to her but she was aware in the back of her mind of a fear of appearing too wanton or immoral; in any way like her mother, essentially. She was distracted from her thoughts by Darcy leaning over and kissing her softly, lingering for several long moments.
"Thank you," he breathed when he pulled back.
"What for?" Elizabeth asked quietly.
"For agreeing to be my wife," Darcy replied with a lopsided smile. "For being the wonderful, beautiful, passionate woman you are. Truly, Elizabeth, I...thank you."
"You're welcome," Elizabeth whispered lovingly, though in truth she thought that she was the one who should be thankful.
The sound of the clock striking the hour broke into their quiet moment and Darcy grimaced slightly as he realised the time; seeing this Elizabeth asked what was wrong.
"Your father is going to strangle me," he replied with certainty.
Elizabeth laughed lightly. "He doesn't have to know," she assured him.
"Elizabeth, love," Darcy replied patiently. "He is going to take one look at you and know exactly what we've been doing, and he's going to have my hide."
"It can't be that bad," Elizabeth argued, patting her hair. When Darcy just raised one eyebrow in silent contradiction she rose from her seat and went to look in the mirror. "Oh," she exclaimed with surprise and then laughed at her appearance; turning to Darcy she cheerfully agreed, "You're right, he is going to strangle you."
"That's not helpful," he replied sarcastically, though he was smiling. Standing up, he walked over and joined her at the mirror, wrapping his arms around her from behind and looking down at their reflection. Noticing that her smile did not quite meet her eyes he asked, "Are you well?"
"I'm fine," Elizabeth softly assured him, leaning back against his chest. "I know I should be ashamed of our behaving like this," she admitted with a smile, "but I'm not. I want to be with you, William, in every way."
"Soon," Darcy promised, pressing a kiss to her temple, his eyes still on their reflection.
"I wish we did not have to wait," Elizabeth whispered in reply; she jumped slightly when Darcy let his head fall against her shoulder and let out a shaky breath. "William? What's wrong?"
"Please don't tempt me Elizabeth," Darcy begged, feeling his control slipping dangerously. He looked at her in the mirror as he admitted, "Right now there is nothing I want more than to take you to bed and make love to you, but you know we cannot."
"I do," Elizabeth replied weakly. "I'm sorry, I should not have said that," she added meekly, avoiding his eye.
"Don't apologise," Darcy replied firmly. "Never apologise for that."
"But," Elizabeth argued, frowning to herself, "it is not right, is it? Not proper I mean, for me to think such things, to want to...my paternity may be in question, but I am clearly my mother's daughter," she concluded sarcastically in a bitter undertone.
"The fact that you have such doubts proves that that is not the case, my love," Darcy pointed out gently, giving her a reassuring squeeze. "And please, Elizabeth, do not think that wanting us to be together is wrong- I certainly do not. We love each other; it is only natural."
"I'm sorry," Elizabeth sighed, leaning back and rubbing her cheek against his chest. "It is just hard for me sometimes; I worry about appearing at all like her."
"I understand," Darcy assured her with a kiss to her forehead as he added, "Though you need not."
They remained quietly embraced for several moments until the clock once again reminded them of the passage of time. With one final kiss and a reluctant smile, Darcy bid her farewell and slipped quietly from the room, heading for his own- he needed some time alone away from her alluring presence before he would be fit for company once more.
Smiling happily at her reflection Elizabeth began pulling the pins from her hair, intent on restoring some semblance of order to the tangled tresses which Darcy had loosened from their confines with his questing fingers. As she did so she turned her head from one side to the other, sighing over the small red marks on her neck and shoulders where Darcy had nipped her skin- there was no way she was going to be able to hide those! Resigned to remaining in her room for some time, she finished her hair and straightened her gown, checking her appearance once more in the mirror before walking away and retrieving a book from her small bookcase before going to recline on her bed. She had no intention of reading but should she be disturbed she did not want to have to admit to daydreaming about her betrothed. Just the thought of his kisses made her blush all over again and laughing helplessly at herself Elizabeth flopped onto her back and smiled up at the canopy, her imagination running wild.
When she eventually was able to rejoin the others, Elizabeth entered the parlour to find the entire party sat together, conversing happily. Her father turned to her upon her entrance.
"Ah, Lizzy, there you are!" He greeted her cheerfully. "Feeling better now?" He asked.
Elizabeth was momentarily caught off guard but quickly recovered with Emily's aid when her friend pointed to her head and pulled a face.
"Oh, yes," Elizabeth lied straight-faced. "It was just a slight headache."
"Good, good," Lord Casterton replied; he smiled as he joked, "It was well timed- you missed Robert's visit."
"Yes," Elizabeth choked out, avoiding looking at Darcy for fear of giving them away. "How is he?"
"Broke," Lord Casterton responded bluntly. "But otherwise well."
"How nice," Elizabeth replied blithely, making her father chuckle. She took her seat and then with an inner admonition not to blush, turned and addressed Darcy. "Did you finish your letter?"
"Yes, just now," he replied, his eyes warm. "I have asked Richard to pass on the news that Georgie has accepted your father's offer to remain here after the wedding," he added with a smile in his sister's direction.
"Really?" Elizabeth replied, looking between her father and Georgiana with a pleased expression.
"Yes," Georgiana confirmed. "I like it here very much and, well, I want to stay," she admitted with a light shrug, smiling. "I hope my aunt and uncle won't mind too much."
"Not at all," Darcy assured her easily. "We shall see them at Christmas after all. Matlock is only a day and a half away from Pemberley," he added for the others benefit. At Elizabeth's questioning look he smiled and nodded his encouragement, smiling when she turned to her father and said,
"You will come to Pemberley for Christmas, won't you papa?"
"I did not know that I was invited," Lord Casterton teased in reply.
"Then please consider this your formal invitation, my lord," Darcy stated with a smile. "We should love to host you for Christmas," he added as Elizabeth vigorously nodded her agreement.
"In that case, I accept the invitation," Lord Casterton replied. "I shall look forward to it."
Georgiana sighed happily; when the other's all looked to her she blushed and admitted, "I was just thinking that it has been years since we have had a family Christmas at Pemberley."
"Yes," Darcy agreed quietly. "Far too long. That will change now, though," he added with a loving look at Elizabeth who returned it with a smile.
"How quiet it suddenly seems," Elizabeth observed softly, sat across from her father in the library where they were both ensconced with their books.
"Yes," her father agreed with a slight smile.
The wedding was five days away and, with the Fitzwilliam family due to arrive at Netherfield the following day, the Darcy siblings had just that morning departed to stay with the Bingleys. This was due to the fact that there was no room for the Fitzwilliams at Willoughby- the Fraiser, Anderson and Hanley families were all expected in the next few days- and Darcy and his sister did not expect Jane and Bingley to host their relations in their absence, and so to Netherfield they had gone. Emily, given that she was no longer required to play the part of chaperone, had also departed and Lord Casterton was honest enough to admit that he was glad to be left alone with his daughter again- the weeks leading up to the wedding had passed by far too quickly for his taste.
"Have you finished with the preparations for the wedding breakfast?" He asked, trying to sound more positive about it all than he really felt.
"Yes," Elizabeth replied, adding with a smile, "Emily is a godsend; I should have been quite lost without her. I have never organised an event for so many people, though I daresay I shall have to get used to it," she predicted happily.
Her father nodded and then shifted in his seat, looking suddenly uncomfortable and avoiding looking in her direction as he awkwardly ventured, "About Emily...did she, um, that is to say, did you and she speak about...did she talk to you about...?"
"Father?" Elizabeth questioned, bemused, wondering what on earth had him so tongue-tied.
Lord Casterton took a deep breath and blurted, "Did she speak with you about your wedding...night?"
Elizabeth flushed but her father appeared embarrassed enough for the both of them and so she was able to reply, with tolerable composure, "Yes, she did."
Lord Casterton nodded and looked relieved, "Good, good." He cleared his throat and pointedly turned back to his book, missing Elizabeth biting back a smile.
It had only been the night before that Emily had come to her bedchamber to talk to Elizabeth about her wedding night and what she should expect. Though initially embarrassed and reluctant to discuss the subject, Emily's frankness had set Elizabeth at ease and in the end they had had very enlightening and reassuring discussion. Elizabeth had not harboured any doubts about William with regards to how he would behave and treat her, far from it, but it was nice to know more about what to expect and what to do. Emily and her husband had been happily married for many years and she also knew of Elizabeth's insecurities with regards to her mother; she was, in many ways, the perfect person for Elizabeth to talk to and she was touched that her father seemed to have realised that.
Elizabeth studied her father as he attempted to hide behind the pages of his book, noting the changes the past year had wrought on his appearance. His hair was greyer than she remembered, and the lines around his eyes and mouth were deeper and more numerous. He had lost weight but looked better for it, though to lose anymore would not be good for him; she wondered who would ensure he was following his diet when she was gone, and the thought made her sad. So caught up in the preparations for the wedding and so happy to spend time with William, she had not allowed herself time to think about the prospect of leaving her father and her home; now she had, however, and suddenly five days seemed a very short amount of time indeed.
Closing her book, Elizabeth rose and crossed to where her father was sat, settling down next to him on the settee, folding her legs up and leaning into his side. He seemed surprised by her action but nevertheless put his arm around her; feeling him looking down at her, Elizabeth admitted, "I felt like having a cuddle."
Lord Casterton smiled and pressed an affectionate kiss to the top of her head; after a while he noted, "We haven't done this for some time."
"I know," Elizabeth admitted quietly. She cuddled up closer to him but remained silent, her thoughts melancholy. "You give the best cuddles," she admitted after a moment.
"I'm glad you still think so," Lord Casterton replied softly, setting aside his book. "What troubles you my dear?" He asked when his daughter remained silent.
"Nothing," Elizabeth murmured unconvincingly. She sighed and her fingers played with the button of his waistcoat as her father patiently waited for her to confide in him. "I am suddenly finding the thought of marrying Mr Darcy quite...daunting," she confessed at last.
"In what sense?" Lord Casterton asked gently.
"I have no doubts about William, but Derbyshire suddenly seems such a long way away," Elizabeth replied in a small voice.
"That's probably because it is," Lord Casterton pointed out sensibly, chuckling when Elizabeth huffed and glared at him. He smiled in understanding as he added, "But do you not think it would seem so even if it were only half as far away?"
"Yes," Elizabeth admitted after a moment, with a small smile as she remembered a conversation she and Darcy had had long ago. "Anything beyond the very neighbourhood of Willoughby appears far."
Lord Casterton nodded his understanding before saying, "I shall miss you exceedingly, my dear, but I daresay my affection for you will draw me from home more often than anything else has done in the past. I shall delight in visiting you at Pemberley," he concluded teasingly, "especially when I am least expected."
Elizabeth managed a weak smile at his tease but in the next moment broke down and admitted, "I don't want to go!"
"Sweetheart," Lord Casterton commiserated, touched by the sentiment even though he did suspect that this was just a case of pre-wedding nerves, "of course you do. You love your Mr Darcy and until five minutes ago were happily anticipating being married to him," he pointed out fairly.
"I know," Elizabeth agreed reluctantly. "But that does not mean that I want to leave you," she argued tearfully.
"Elizabeth," Lord Casterton began in a gentle tone; he sighed and tried to find the right words. "I don't want you to leave either," he admitted finally, smiling when Elizabeth looked at him obviously surprised to hear him say it out loud. He went on, tucking her hair behind her ear as he did so. "But I have known since the day you were born that this would happen, that one day some young man would come along and take you away from me. And ever since you were born I have hoped and prayed that the man you chose to marry would deserve you, and that I could relinquish you to him safe in the knowledge that you would be loved and cherished by him for the rest of your life. Darcy is that man, Elizabeth," he concluded with a loving smile. "And the time has come for me to let you go."
"Oh papa," Elizabeth whispered, throwing her arms around his neck. "I love you so much."
"And I you, my Lizzy," Lord Casterton replied with much emotion.
The day of the wedding dawned clear and crisp and Elizabeth, wrapped up against the early morning cold, slipped from the house for one last walk. She kept to the confines of the garden, though she dearly wished to venture further, aware that soon the other occupants of the house would be up and she would be missed. It would not do, after all, for the bride to go missing on her wedding day!
Her wedding day! Such a scary, wonderful thought. Friends and family had come from far and wide to share in this day with her and William and the past few days had been full of activity and celebration, so much so that it was something of a relief to have this time to herself. That was not to say that she was ungrateful, she truly appreciated their guests coming so far, but she nonetheless felt the need to be alone, to walk in peace and quiet and savour these final moments of her life as simply Miss Elizabeth Casterton.
Coming across a bench Elizabeth sat down and watched her breath linger before her in the cold air; tilting her head back she let her eyes slip shut and just listened to the sounds of the morning, quite content. A quarter of an hour passed in such a way before she eventually roused herself and set off back to the house, feeling ready now for the rest of the day and the beginning of her new life.
Richard Fitzwilliam grinned at his cousin's reflection as Darcy stood at his mirror adjusting the knot of his cravat. Between them he, Staunton and Carlisle had taken every opportunity to tease and rib his cousin and had had many a laugh at Darcy's expense, though in truth Darcy had withstood the majority of their antics with admirable composure.
"Why should I be?" Darcy challenged calmly.
"Because it would be, well, normal," Richard replied, chuckling when his cousin glared at him. "Honestly, you're not nervous at all?"
"Perhaps a little," Darcy conceded with a slight smile as he turned away from the mirror, satisfied with his appearance at last.
"That's more like it!" Richard cheerfully replied and Darcy rolled his eyes. "Now, what are your plans for after the wedding? Are you going to travel straight to Pemberley?"
"Yes; well, no, not right away, no," Darcy admitted quietly, looking pleased. "Staunton kindly offered me the use of his estate and Elizabeth and I will spend the night there before going on to Pemberley."
Richard smiled knowingly as he noted, "A fine alternative to spending your first night together at an inn."
"Yes," Darcy agreed, still smiling to himself, his mind beginning to wander. He glowered at his cousin when Richard cuffed him on the arm with a laugh, bringing him back down to earth.
"One step at a time, Darce!" Richard reminded him. "You've got to get married before you can enjoy your wedding night."
"You are irritating me," Darcy informed his cousin, though not unkindly.
"That's what I'm here for," Richard cheerfully replied and Darcy just sighed as he wondered whether Bingley would have been a better or worse choice for a groomsman. He was fortunately saved from further teasing by the appearance of his sister, looking as happy and delighted as he inwardly felt that this day had finally come.
"There, all done," Maria pronounced quietly as she fastened Elizabeth's necklace for her, the one William had gifted to her for the ball.
Lady Anderson and Sophia were sat beside one another on Elizabeth's bed and both smiled at the picture the bride presented as Elizabeth turned around and nervously asked, "How do I look?"
"Beautiful," Lord Casterton replied from the doorway where he had been stood unseen by the four ladies. His chest swelled with pride as he looked upon his daughter and admired the young woman she had become, so wonderful in so many ways. Managing a smile for the other occupants of the room he quietly requested a moment alone with Elizabeth.
Holding her hands out to her father, Elizabeth went to him and smiled when he took her hands and squeezed them tight, his eyes shining with unshed tears.
"Please don't cry papa," she teased with a wobbly smile. "Otherwise I know I shall as well."
"Well, we can't have that," Lord Casterton replied, clearing his throat and putting on a brave face. He regarded his daughter for a moment before reaching up and tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, saying as he did so, "This is a bittersweet day."
"I know," Elizabeth replied, biting her lip, so close to losing her composure. She heaved a shaky sigh and her father smiled sympathetically at her.
"I was a bundle of nerves the day I married your mother, you know," he confided lightly, chuckling at her surprised expression. "Yes, I remember Thomas plying me with brandy before the ceremony."
"Why were you nervous?" Elizabeth asked quietly, curious; her father had never spoken to her of this before.
"I think because I loved your mother," Lord Casterton admitted, staring at some point over her shoulder, his mind in another time and place. "And because I felt all the responsibility of making her happy and taking care of her for the rest of our lives. I so wanted to make her happy," he confessed in a whisper before clearly his throat and coming back to himself, smiling as he concluded, "and that is why I was nervous."
"Papa," Elizabeth breathed, her heart breaking for him. She leant up on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek as a few tears escaped and slid down her cheeks.
Seeing he had upset his daughter Lord Casterton sighed and took his handkerchief from his pocket, handing it to her as he apologised, "I'm sorry, I should not have told you that."
"No, I'm glad you did," Elizabeth replied, wiping her cheeks. She hesitated a moment before asking, "Have you ever considered marrying again papa?"
Her father looked surprised by the question but answered it nonetheless, "No, never."
"Perhaps you should," Elizabeth told him with a meaningful look, ignoring his startled expression and handing him back his handkerchief. "I think you would do a good job of making whomever you chose very happy."
Lord Casterton eyed his daughter suspiciously for a long moment before noncommittally replying, "Perhaps."
Elizabeth smiled to herself and let the subject drop, content with the knowledge that she had planted the thought in her father's head. Realising that it was almost time for them to leave for the church, Lord Casterton offered his daughter his arm and escorted her downstairs where they found Jane Bingley waiting for them, having just been dropped off by her husband on his way to the church. Their other guests had all gone on ahead already and the trio spent the final few moments alone.
"Ready Lizzy?" Lord Casterton asked when it really was time to go, not wanting to give Darcy any reason to fret by being late but also not wanting to rush his daughter at all.
"Yes," Elizabeth replied confidently, smiling between her father and dearest friend.
"Then let us go," Lord Casterton said as he offered her his arm and led her outside to the waiting carriage, assisting her and then Jane up before climbing up himself.
Stood at the front of the church with Richard beside him, Darcy looked over all the people who had come to witness his marriage to Elizabeth with a smile of pride and contentment. He nodded to Bingley as he entered and took his seat, knowing that the arrival of his friend meant that Elizabeth would not be far behind; the nerves which he had mastered so well up until now suddenly ratcheted up several notches and he visibly paled. Feeling his cousin lay a hand on his shoulder Darcy turned to him, looking for reassurance, though he would never admit to needing it.
"So, you are only human after all," Richard joked quietly and Darcy chuckled in spite of himself- so much for reassurance!
"You are the worst groomsman ever," he replied with a grin and Richard laughed his agreement.
Before he could say more the signal came that the bride had arrived and a hush fell over those gathered; standing tall to his full height, Darcy tugged on his coat and held his chin up, his eyes focused expectantly on the door. Jane entered first and walked down the aisle, smiling at her new husband and at her family before taking her place at the front of the church and Darcy held his breath as he waited for Elizabeth to appear. When he set eyes upon his bride, a vision in white with her head held high and her step confident, her eyes never leaving his, it was all he could do to remain in his place and wait for her to come to him. And when Lord Casterton placed her hand in his and she smiled up at him, those enchanting eyes dancing with happiness, Darcy knew that he was lost.
Assuming his place beside the bride and groom as they turned towards Father Colwick, Lord Casterton swallowed thickly past the lump in his throat and, as the vicar began the ceremony, resolutely vowed that he would not lose his composure.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered 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 by God in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is between Christ and His church, and therefore is not by any to be enterprised lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy man's carnal lusts and appetites, but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God, duly considering the causes for which matrimony was ordained."*
Startling slightly, Lord Casterton looked down at his hand which Emily, stood beside him, had discreetly taken and was holding tightly; squeezing her fingers in silent thanks, he turned back to listen and watch as Darcy recited his vows, his clear strong voice ringing out over the congregation.
"I, Fitzwilliam George Darcy, take thee, Elizabeth Rose Casterton, to be my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or 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."
Smiling tremulously, Elizabeth then took her turn reciting her vows, faltering at first but gaining strength as Darcy looked down at her with love and pride shining in his eyes.
"I, Elizabeth Rose Casterton, take thee, Fitzwilliam George Darcy, to be my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or 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."
Accepting the ring from Father Colwick, Darcy gently placed it upon Elizabeth's finger and spoke the words which would finally unite them,
"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."
Nodding to himself, Father Colwick addressed the congregation as Darcy and Elizabeth continued to smile at one another, the latter through tears of happiness which her husband gently reached out to wipe away. Gaining their attention, Father Colwick then joined their hands and smiled kindly at Elizabeth (whom he had christened as a baby) before finally declaring,
"Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder."
Elizabeth laughed as Maria embraced her enthusiastically, Lewis, Alex and the rest of the Fraiser family gathered around them. Darcy was by her side, as he had been since they had left the church, and he accepted their congratulations with a dimpled smile which, again, seemed to have remained in place since they left the church.
"Does this mean you can't play blind man's bluff with me anymore Lizzy?" Fred piped up from his position beside his father; when all the adults laughed at his question he looked between them, vaguely annoyed. "What's so funny?"
"Of course I can still play with you Fred," Elizabeth assured him as she shared a look with his parents. "Though I'm afraid it might be some time until we see each other again."
"Oh," Fred replied, looking both relieved and disappointed; he brightened as he suggested, "Let's play now!"
"Not right now dear, no" Maria told him in a kindly tone as the others stifled smiles; before he could argue she quickly suggested they get some cake and Fred was quite successfully distracted from his earlier desire.
Lewis watched his wife and son go before turning to Elizabeth and asking, "Where is your father?"
Darcy noticed his wife's smile falter ever so slightly and replied on her behalf, indicating his father in law stood a little way away with Emily and Mr Bennet. When the Fraiser group moved away, leaving Elizabeth and he alone for the moment, he drew her closer to his side and quietly asked, "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," Elizabeth assured him; she looked up at him and smiled quite genuinely this time as she playfully requested, "Will you say it again?"
Darcy grinned and did as he was bid. "I love you, Mrs Darcy."
"I don't think I shall ever tire of hearing that," Elizabeth admitted with a contented sigh.
"I hope not," Darcy replied, bending to kiss her lightly, smiling at her slight blush when he pulled away. They were however unfortunately interrupted before he could do or say any more and Darcy rolled his eyes as he heard his cousin joke,
"Ah, ah, enough of that!"
"Oh Richard," his mother scolded him lightly. "Leave them be."
She moved forward and lightly embraced a slightly surprised Elizabeth as Lord Matlock shook hands with Darcy; they switched places and as Lady Matlock pressed a kiss to her nephew's cheek, Lord Matlock hesitated awkwardly before Elizabeth, obviously uncertain as to what to do. Taking pity on him, Elizabeth stepped forward and leant up to lightly kiss his cheek, smiling when he looked at her with surprise but clearly pleased by the gesture.
"Welcome to the family," he told her as his wife and son looked on, smiling and nodding their agreement.
"Thank you, my lord," Elizabeth replied before smiling up at her new husband.
They were joined then by Georgiana and Lady Matlock immediately attempted to persuade her niece to return with them to town and then travel on to Matlock at Christmas, as had originally been arranged. Seeing that her new sister was uncomfortable with the pressure being put on her to change her mind, Elizabeth stepped in and deftly changed the subject; she enquired about the friends they had left in town who had been unable to attend the wedding, looking particularly at Richard when she pointedly asked after Mrs Peters. This of course gained his mother's attention and he looked vaguely alarmed at her interest, the question of Georgiana's travel plans effectively set aside in favour of this much more interesting development. As Richard attempted to deflect his mother's questions he glared playfully at Elizabeth but she simply shrugged and smiled, reasoning that it was the least he deserved for teasing her husband so mercilessly prior to their wedding!
"Thank you," Georgiana whispered to her, her relief evident. She had always found it hard exerting her opinion when her aunt and uncle were concerned.
"You're welcome," Elizabeth assured her kindly. "I hope though that you do not feel obliged to remain here, if you are inclined to go with your aunt and uncle," she added. "My father would understand."
Georgiana shook her head and assured Elizabeth that she was happy to remain at Willoughby; satisfied that the arrangements should remain as they were Elizabeth let the subject drop and turned to Darcy, suggesting that they should perhaps take some time to speak with the remainder of their guests.
From his place beside Emily, Lord Casterton watched as his daughter circulated around the room on the arm of her new husband, smiling to himself at Darcy's almost unwavering attention to his bride as she spoke with the friends and neighbours who had come to celebrate their marriage. He sighed, his feelings a confusing blend of happiness and sadness, and then looked down at Emily, surprised to see her struggling with some emotion; sensing his look she smiled and admitted,
"Whilst I would not dream of comparing my feelings to yours, I think I can understand how difficult this day must have been for you. Elizabeth is...I have always thought of her as the daughter I never had," she confessed quietly, "and though I am happy for her, so very happy, I still feel..." She smiled ruefully up at Lord Casterton as she concluded, "Well, you know how I feel, of course."
"Yes," Lord Casterton replied, smiling tenderly down at her. "You have been so good to her, Emily," he complimented sincerely. "To both of us."
"No more so than you have been to me," Emily demurred. She looked over at Elizabeth and admitted, "I shall miss her."
"As will I," Lord Casterton replied before making an attempt at optimism, "Though at least we shall still have one another for company."
"Yes," Emily quietly replied. "There is that."
As he looked down at his lifelong friend the words Elizabeth had spoken to him that morning suddenly popped into Lord Casterton's head and before he knew what he was about he had asked, "Emily, have you ever considered marrying again?"
Though inwardly she was somewhat startled by the question, outwardly Emily just smiled and replied, "If the right man asked me, I daresay I might be tempted."
Lord Casterton nodded silently and then abruptly returned to studying his guests, wondering why on earth Emily's answer pleased him so much. And why, he wondered with no little irritation, could he not get the notion of marrying again out of his head?! It was entirely his daughter's fault.
Across the room, Darcy was discreetly checking the time on his new pocket watch which Elizabeth had gifted to him the day before. For, as much as he was enjoying himself (and he really was) and as loathe as he was to separate Elizabeth and her father, Darcy was mindful of the long journey they had ahead of them and their need to depart soon if they wished to arrive before nightfall. He was just tucking his watch back in his pocket when his wife noticed his action and asked, with more than a hint of sadness, whether it was time for them to leave.
"Yes, I'm afraid it is," he replied gently; seeing the tears instantly form in her eyes and unable to countenance being the cause of her pain he immediately proposed, "Unless we remain here tonight, and leave tomorrow instead."
Elizabeth looked at him lovingly, touched by his desire to make her happy but nevertheless replied, "No, we must go. We are married now and I must," she took a shaky breath and swallowed thickly before finally stating, "It is time to let go. Thank you, though, for suggesting we stay," she added warmly as he stroked away an errant tear from her cheek.
"I only wish for you to be happy," Darcy replied intently, a slight frown marring his brow which Elizabeth attempted to soothe away as she leant up and kissed him and assured him, "I am happy."
"Really?" Darcy whispered, uncertain all of a sudden.
"Yes," Elizabeth resolutely replied. "Happier than I have ever been; and all because of you."
"I love you," Darcy replied, bending to kiss her, lingering for several moments before recalling his surroundings and reluctantly pulling away.
"I love you too," Elizabeth breathed, opening her eyes and looking up into his, absently wondering when she would cease to be struck by their beautiful clear blue colour.
"Shall we start saying our goodbyes?" Darcy asked quietly, offering her his arm when Elizabeth nodded silently.
Making their way around the room, they thanked everyone for coming and said their goodbyes, naturally lingering longest with those closest to them, exchanging promises to write and to visit, accepting once more the heartfelt congratulations of their friends and family. Some of the goodbyes were very hard (saying goodbye to Jane and Mr Bennet was particularly painful) and Elizabeth was glad that she had already reassured her husband of her happiness, knowing that her tears most likely would have caused him to doubt it!
Leaving the most difficult farewells until last, Elizabeth and Darcy finally approached Emily and Lord Casterton. Noting the expressions of the other three, his own emotions also somewhat affected, Darcy quietly suggested that they all find somewhere for a private farewell away from the rest of the party; agreeing with the suggestion, Lord Casterton led them to his study and firmly shut the door behind him. Emily was already saying goodbye to Elizabeth, holding her tightly and speaking to her in hushed tones, so Lord Casterton turned to his son in law and held his hand out.
"Take good care of my girl," he entreated Darcy as they shook hands, his voice breaking.
"I will, Michael," Darcy replied intently, laying a hand on Lord Casterton's shoulder and giving it a firm squeeze. "You have my word."
Lord Casterton nodded. "I know I have said this before, Fitzwilliam, but I could not have asked for a better son in law."
"And I could not have asked for a better father in law," Darcy replied quietly. "It is an honour, sir."
Stood with Emily's arm around her waist, Elizabeth silently watched and listened to the exchange between her father and her husband, overcome with emotion. Finally noticing her watching, her father opened his arms and when she went to him crushed her to him as though he never wanted to let go. Feeling as though he were intruding, Darcy stepped back and averted his eyes, noticing as he did so that Emily had done the same, returning the weak smile she sent him as Lord Casterton and Elizabeth spoke to one another in quiet tones, clearly saying a last goodbye.
With one final kiss to her forehead Lord Casterton finally relinquished his daughter back to her husband and allowed Darcy to comfort her as he wiped his eyes and composed himself. When it seemed that Elizabeth was ready he offered Emily his arm and suggested, "I think it is time we rejoined the others; no doubt they wish to give you a final send off."
The group returned downstairs to find everyone assembled in the foyer and outside, Darcy's carriage sitting ready for their journey to begin. Finding his sister in the crowd, Darcy kissed her cheek and embraced her, "I shall see you in a month poppet."
"I am so happy for you William," Georgiana replied tearfully. "Elizabeth shall be a wonderful sister to me, I just know it."
Darcy smiled happily at her prediction before quietly requesting, "Take care of Lord Casterton for me poppet; he will need you with Elizabeth gone."
"I know," Georgiana replied, glancing over at his lordship. "But I shall try my best."
"That is all I ask," Darcy replied and then pressed a final kiss to her cheek.
"Oh, Lizzy, you must write and tell Jane what Pemberley is like!" Mrs Bennet exclaimed excitedly from her place between her husband and her daughter, the former of whom rolled his eyes at Elizabeth and smiled wryly.
"I shall write very soon," Elizabeth assured the lady whilst looking at her friend. "And I hope you know Jane that I expect you to be as faithful a correspondent as Mrs Bingley as you were as Miss Bennet; I shall know who to blame if that is not the case!" She added playfully as Bingley laughed and Jane promised she would not fail her.
Rejoining his wife, Darcy gently grasped her elbow and whispered that it was time to go; nodding to his father in law as Elizabeth embraced him one final time, Darcy waited for a moment for Elizabeth to join him and then handed her up into their carriage, climbing in after her and settling into the seat beside her. He spotted his sister and cousin stood together towards the back of the crowd, beside his aunt and uncle and he waved to them as Elizabeth waved to her father and Emily; finally, as everyone called out their goodbyes the carriage pulled away and the sound of their friends and family faded into the distance as the carriage rolled away from Willoughby. Seeing his wife's tears, Darcy gathered her into his arms and held her as she cried, soothing her with soft kisses and the assurance of his love and devotion.
Stood watching as the carriage disappeared into the distance and then finally out of sight altogether, Lord Casterton was surprised to find himself addressed by Mrs Bennet.
"Oh, there she goes. Your daughter married, just like my Jane; does it not feel wonderful! Has not God been very good to us?"
"Yes, so it would seem," Lord Casterton replied quietly, smiling to himself.The End