Posted on Monday, 4 September 2006
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church --”
Elizabeth smiled to herself as Jane’s hand was placed in Bingley’s. She hardly heard the ceremony, her eyes passing from person to person. Mr Beresford looked pleased. She imagined he did not often have the opportunity to marry such a pair, young, in love, and deserving of the happiness they would undoubtedly enjoy. Bingley had a wide, slightly foolish smile on his face. His unruly brown hair had fallen in his eyes again, but she knew he felt nothing of it. Jane was a picture of blissful serenity.
Mrs Bennet tried to cry, but was too delighted with her accomplishment to manage it. Not a nerve troubled her now, although she had certainly been quite hysterical that morning, fussing over the brides’ hair and clothes. Jane had gained a little weight and so the fit of her best new gown was not quite perfect, and a few scattered freckles on Elizabeth’s nose had sent her into a frenzy. But now, nothing could diminish her happiness.
Mr Bennet was blinking. Elizabeth sighed a little. Poor Papa. He would miss them bitterly, she knew. Of course he would always be welcome at Pemberley, but she did not know how often he would make the journey, he so disliked traveling. She would write, she promised herself, long rambling letters full of news.
Kitty looked bored, and rather lonely, occasionally throwing a covetous glance at the lace on Georgiana’s gown. Elizabeth felt a twinge of conscience. She had hardly spared her younger sisters any thought, her mind had been so full of her own affairs, and Jane’s. Kitty was nearly as awed by Miss Darcy as she was by her brother, but was often looking at her with mixed wonder and envy. Word of her thirty thousand pounds had passed as quickly as her brother’s ten, and most of the neighbourhood seemed to regard her as a strange foreign creature. Mary only frightened her, but she had actually spoken to Kitty. If she could be taken away from Meryton and given a proper education, she might improve, she was still young.
“First, it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.”
Elizabeth thought fondly of the Gardiner children, the little boys and then the girls, the elder always trying to be a model of propriety, Amelia following Darcy or Jane about with constant questions and usually one hand gripping skirt or trousers. She briefly wondered about the nieces and nephews she would have, who they would resemble, what they would look like. What sort of life could Lydia’s expect, what sort of happiness would be possible for the offspring of such a union?
She looked down at her folded hands. There was no point in distressing herself over people who did not yet exist, not on this day, of all days. The Bingleys, now, would be as different as could be imagined. Unless -- she briefly entertained herself by imagining them as parents of a girl like herself, or still worse, Miss Bingley. Well, they would take far greater care. Bingley was lackadaisical, to be sure, but she had no doubts that Jane or Darcy would take him in hand if it became necessary. His easy ductile temper might have its advantages.
“Secondly, it was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body.
“Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.”
Elizabeth lifted her eyes and met Darcy’s. He was in a great happiness, she could tell; he was not Bingley, he did not show it with that mirthful, exuberant, rather silly -- although indubitably sweet and rather endearing -- smile beaming on his face, although he did smile, a little, when he looked at her. She wondered what he was thinking, he seemed graver than usual. Regret, perhaps, at his role in dividing these two who were so evidently suited for one another; something of the same high nervous spirits she felt? She had no doubts as to her choice, but so much was changing. Afterwards, they would be indissolubly bound, they would never be the same again.
She saw a picturesque tear rolling down Jane’s cheek and paid close attention then, ignoring all else but the four of them, her sister, the man who would be her brother, and her betrothed. Soon Bingley was a sliding a pretty gold band onto the fourth finger of Jane’s left hand. It had been a new purchase. The Bingleys were just setting out, beginning their descendants’ history, and most of what Jane received from her betrothed had never passed through another woman’s hands, certainly not this. It was better, perhaps, for them; Elizabeth would never admit it, but she could not help preferring the weight of the centuries upon Darcy and anything he gave her. She felt, somehow, as if it she had become part of something greater and more important than herself, a feeling she had never had before, but which she relished.
“Forasmuch as Charles and Jane have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth either to other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a ring, and by joining of hands; I pronounce that they be man and wife together, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
And then, it was their turn. Jane, now a married woman -- Lydia’s pathetic demand to be given precedence flashed into her mind, and as quickly left it -- kissed her, and before she quite knew what had happened, she and Darcy were at the altar. The silence was almost deafening. She thought of his family, thought that she could never go back, and wanted to look back for reassurance, at Jane, her mother, Georgiana, anyone. Instead, she glanced up at Darcy. He looked perfectly composed, too composed. She knew him well enough, now, to recognise that particular composure, the expression without expression that signified the height of feeling with him, and smiled a little.
How many times had she heard the ceremony? She could not remember. Only a moment ago, she had been half-listening to it; certainly it was familiar, she could have recited it in her sleep -- and yet it was wholly different now. She fixed her eyes on Mr Beresford and listened with far greater care than ever before. How could it pass so quickly? One moment he was saying, “-- therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God -- ” and making her think, yet again, of Lydia and Wickham, then, for all her determined attention, her heart was pounding in her ears as the pleasant monotony of Mr Beresford’s voice was replaced by Darcy’s rich, clear,
Elizabeth caught her breath. She had not cried when Jane had pronounced the same words, she had only happiness, but now --
“Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only to him, so long as ye both shall live?”
“I will,” said Elizabeth, and held back the rush of tears. She did not want to weep, no matter that they were happy tears --
Her father did, though, as he gave her to his old friend, and she could only smile reassuringly. Then Darcy took her hand, and he said, still in that steady voice -- only she, Elizabeth felt certain, could hear the faintest hint of a tremble at wife -- and only she could see the exhilaration in his eyes --
“I, Fitzwilliam, take thee, Elizabeth, to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.”
She no longer had the slightest desire to cry now, she felt a rush of anticipatory delight, as if the world were opening before her, when she took his hand in her own, and she said, “I, Elizabeth, take thee, Fitzwilliam, to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.”
Almost reluctantly, she released her hold on his hand, feeling dizzy with it all as Lady Anne’s ring slid onto the fourth finger of her left hand. It was perfectly lovely, of course; he had given it to her when they were in London, and had it re-set for her, so that it spoke of both the history she was inheriting, and Elizabeth herself.
“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.”
Her hand looked different now, with that ring that she would never remove -- no longer a girl’s hand, but a woman’s. She smiled vibrantly, unable to stop herself, as they knelt down together.
“O Eternal God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life; send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in thy name; that, as Isaac and Rebecca lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, (whereof this ring given and received is a token and pledge,) and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together -- ” was such a thing even possible? she thought -- “and live according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Once again, the last time, their hands were joined. They stared at one another, Darcy with his lashes lowered, she, her lips parted, and their fingers tightened together as Mr Beresford pronounced,
“Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.”
The moment after her marriage, easily a half-dozen thoughts at once dashed into her head. Wonder that it had finally happened -- Miss Elizabeth Bennet was simply gone, and she was Elizabeth Darcy. She would be this man’s wife, live with him, bear his children, preside over his home. She was no longer a Bennet, but a Darcy of Pemberley. As far as the law was concerned, she had not become his, she had become him. She had not the slightest fear of him, but that knowledge, that whatever kind things he might do by her, it was now in his power to do them or not*, made her intensely aware of how much had changed in her life. There had been four marriages in her family, this last year. Charlotte and Mr Collins, Lydia and Wickham, Jane and Bingley, and finally, her own, and all so different. She was suddenly, fiercely, grateful for the happiness she had so nearly missed.
The choir sang, “Blessed are all they that fear the Lord,” and afterwards Elizabeth signed for the last time her old name, as the new ring sparkled up at her.
The Bingleys, Hursts, Darcys, and Bennets walked directly to Longbourn from the church. The carriages had been sent on ahead, as the distance was such a short one. Kitty and Mary immediately walked together, behind Mr and Mrs Bennet, but Georgiana stood uncomfortably by herself. The Bingley sisters turned towards her, clearly intending to invite her to join them, and Elizabeth instantly broke from contemplation on her married state to the duty of that state.
“Georgiana, you must join us,” she called out, and the younger girl’s face lit up with a relieved smile.
“Oh, I do not want to intrude -- ”
Darcy, speaking with his customary softness in dealing with his sister, said, “Come, my dear,” and offered his free arm, and they walked ahead. It was strange and rather awkward to not only walk without Jane, but before her, so Elizabeth turned her attention to those who would be her companions now.
“I feel quite silly for having never asked, but Georgiana, where are you to go, if Fitzwilliam and I are to be alone at Pemberley?”
“I am going north, to Houghton,” she replied meekly. “I did not know you were to be at Pemberley.”
“Yes, we are leaving tomorrow. We decided long ago that we wanted some time without the chaos of town, and I so want to see it again.” She smiled as reassuringly as she could.
“It is very pretty in the winter,” Georgiana offered, before flinching at the sound of quarrelling from Elizabeth’s sisters, and falling silent. From then on, she only listened to the light conversation between her brother and his wife, offering soft assent when she was particularly brave.
The breakfast was at Longbourn, and they arrived not long before the ever-punctual Fitzwilliams. Elizabeth, without even thinking, fixed a smile on her face as her new family approached. To her astonishment, their manner to her had altered considerably; they might not be warm, but that hint of disapproval and distance was gone, and her smile quickly turned genuine. They all shook her hand formally and called her “Mrs Darcy,” the Earl with shiny eyes and his mother with teary ones.
Elizabeth offered the elderly countess her handkerchief. Lady Holbrook blew her nose. “Thank you, my dear.”
“You are quite welcome.”
Lady Holbrook stood still, looking at Darcy, who was talking quietly and earnestly with Colonel Fitzwilliam and Lady Eleanor. “They have been as thick as thieves ever since they were children. Ella was sent to Anne when my daughter-in-law fell ill, when she was four. They were often at Houghton and always so close to Richard.” Again, her dark eyes filled with tears, which she dashed away almost angrily. “You saw the portrait. He is just like her.”
“Yes, he looks like her,” Elizabeth said gently.
“She should be here today. She loved him so much.” With that, she wandered away. Elizabeth had only a moment to herself before Cecilia joined her.
“Poor Grandmama,” she said. “I don’t think she can be happy, really, she can never put her grief away. All of us are rather sombre, though; I hope you don’t mind, it’s your wedding-day.”
“I understand,” said Elizabeth. Could a man of twenty-eight be called an orphan as a girl of sixteen might? She had wondered why his family was so determined to be here today, such a large party was rather odd for a wedding, but of course they wanted to fill the cold dark absence of his own parents’ blessing. Cold they might be, but they did love him; and because she was his wife, she had become one of their own.
Elizabeth shook her head and towards the end kissed her father and mother, who in their very different ways beamed proudly and a little sadly at her. The two Amelias, the old cousin and the new, hovered around Darcy, one tugging at him until he lifted her up, the other simply staying near, gazing up at her godfather with the wistful, mild dark eyes of all the Fitzwilliam children. He took her hand and she smiled shyly. Elizabeth bit her lip. From this day on, she might conceive, an heir, a daughter -- indeed, she must, that was her duty above all others. She felt a strange longing to hold their child in her arms, to present him, or her, to Darcy, to see him swing their daughter up, or walking hand-in-hand with the next Master of Pemberley.
“Miss Bennet?” a timid voice said. Elizabeth looked down at the golden-haired child. Her name was Sophia, but somehow it was difficult to think of her by it. Something rather whimsical might have suited her better, she seemed almost a fairy, dryad, but not wise, not in the conventional sense. “I mean, Mrs Darcy. Could I call you Aunt Darcy? I call Mr Darcy ‘uncle’ because he’s my godfather. He’s John and Amelia’s godfather too.”
Elizabeth heard her own voice say, “Of course you may.” There would be others, she knew; her own nephews and nieces -- but little Sophia Fitzwilliam was the first who had ever given her that name, and her heart was absurdly touched. “Was there something you wanted to say?”
“I was thinking, Uncle Darcy is so happy with you, perhaps you could find a wife for my papa? He is always so sad.” She blinked large dark eyes up at her solemnly.
“Your papa has already been married, Sophia. He might not want another wife.”
“That is so.” Sophia contemplated her father a moment, who stood a little apart from the others, speaking to Lord Milton. “He talks to Uncle Milton a great deal, even when nobody else does. Everyone is very angry at him. Uncle Milton, I mean, not my papa. Uncle Darcy especially. I heard them quarrelling. Uncle Milton was shouting, but Uncle Darcy never shouts. That’s nice. John wants to be like him when he grows up. John is Uncle Milton’s son. Aunt Cecily is going to get married, did you know? Most everyone is angry at her too, but not Uncle Darcy and Aunt Eleanor and Papa. I like Aunt Cecily. I hope she doesn’t go to Kent, ’cause Aunt Catherine lives there and she’s scary, and I don’t like her and she doesn’t like to have children around her so I wouldn’t see her very much. Maybe they’ll live in Yorkshire and I can visit. If Uncle Holbrook gives them a what’s-it-called, they will. Or Uncle Darcy, that’s not so far. I’ve stayed at Pemberley before. Will I be able to stay at Pemberley even though you are there? Aunt Georgiana never minded.”
“I won’t mind,” Elizabeth assured her.
“Sophia!” Lady Diana shepherded the girl back to the other children. Sophia, her face turned away, stuck her tongue out, and Elizabeth covered her mouth before turning to Lord Milton, who was waiting patiently by her side.
“Mrs Darcy. Welcome to the family.” He shook her hand. She rather wondered that it had taken him so long, but she was not surprised that he had stayed away from Darcy except when unavoidable.
“Thank you.” She studied him a moment. He was more like Darcy than either would care to acknowledge, but the viscount looked much more a figure of romance. His dark hair lay in artfully tousled curls, his brown eyes were melancholy, even brooding, and his clothes were at the height of fashion. Nevertheless the straight nose, heavy lashes, and noble mien were very much the same. There was a self-consciousness about Milton, though, that Darcy lacked; this man was quite aware of his looks and their effect.
“Mrs Darcy, I daresay you will think me a terrible cad to ask you this on your wedding-day,” he said nervously, “but I was wondering if you might . . .”
It was not a very far leap to make. “You wish me to speak to my husband” (she thrilled a bit at the sound of that word on her lips) “concerning your financial situation? Or do you only wish advice from him?”
“At present I would be happy with peace,” said Lord Milton. “I see Darcy has already told you everything.” Something of wonder, and envy, entered his dark gaze.
“I cannot really promise anything today,” Elizabeth said, “but of course I think family quarrels are very disagreeable.”
Milton blinked at this non sequitur, then smiled faintly. “Thank you, cousin.” She started at the appellation; he bowed and departed.
By the time they were ready to leave, she had received no less than seven requests from different members of his family to intercede with Darcy, and convince him to make peace with his cousin. Three more appeals regarded completely unrelated matters. Only Lord and Lady Holbrook and their daughter refrained completely. The Holbrooks seemed constitutionally incapable of ill-bred behaviour -- Lord Holbrook talked about the weather, Lady Holbrook of her pug, and Lady Eleanor, although she had thawed considerably, said nothing beside wishing them joy and talking of Pemberley. It was a subject about which both women could wax eloquent, and carried them through the burden of conversing.
Once or twice, Elizabeth looked over to where Jane was enduring the attentions of her new sisters. She was suddenly quite grateful for the Fitzwilliams, who were both sincere and would not embarrass her in public. She linked her arm with Darcy’s as they prepared to go, and after embracing and kissing various relations, turned to Georgiana.
“You are all leaving this afternoon?”
She nodded timidly, throwing a fearful glance at her family. Elizabeth smiled sympathetically. She was not remotely afraid of the Fitzwilliams, but to a shy, nervous girl like Georgiana, afraid of doing wrong, they were undoubtedly as awful as Bingley had once accused Darcy of being. Elizabeth took her young sister’s hands and whispered,
“You must come as soon as you may, after a week, perhaps two. Pemberley is your home now, and you are my sister, and I wish to know as well as I do my own. So you must not think that you will be intruding on us at all.” She stepped back and raised her voice. “We both want you with us. Is that not so, Fitzwilliam?”
“It is,” said he, succinctly.
Georgiana’s lips curved into a tentative smile. “Everyone said you would want to be by yourselves.”
“Perhaps for a little while.” Elizabeth glanced at Darcy and the couple blushed. “But I have never in my life been without some female company, and your brother shall go quite distracted if he cannot fuss over you.” Georgiana’s eyes widened, and she looked at Darcy -- he did not seem upset, only rather amused. She swallowed.
“The Gardiners are coming for Christmas,” he added. “You must be at Pemberley a week before that.”
“That is only another week,” Georgiana said doubtfully, then smiled at her brother, “but I will come as soon as you want me.”
Elizabeth embraced her, Darcy kissed her, and after many more affectionate farewells, they joined Jane and Bingley, both of whom seemed guiltily relieved at their escape, and took their respective carriages to Netherfield, where they were to spend the wedding-night.
*this line comes from a comment by Richardson (author of Clarissa, Pamela, Sir Charles Grandison) on his daughter’s marriage; somehow it struck me.
Chapter Twelve, Part II
Posted on Wednesday, 13 September 2006
The afternoon was spent with the newly-married Bingleys. All four enjoyed themselves immensely, wandering around the park, eating a well-prepared luncheon, and simply talking. To be among sensible, refined people, intimate friends no less, could not be underestimated. Nearly all of the tension from breakfast faded. Jane confessed that she had always longed to see a really cold, snowy winter; Bingley claimed they were miserable and existed only as a test of character; Darcy accused his friend, or rather brother, of being subverted by a pampered London existence. Elizabeth, Jane, and Bingley laughed all through the day, and Darcy smiled. No mention was made of the night that lay ahead, or the Wickhams, though they discussed every other couple of their acquaintance in some fashion or another; there seemed an embargo on the subjects.
It was only as the couples bade one another farewell that Elizabeth felt any hint of unease. Bingley seemed eager and Jane apprehensive, although not unduly so. Darcy had grown quiet and grave, even for him, which meant that he was under some strain, and Elizabeth -- she hardly knew what she felt, only that her heart was hammering madly, both from natural bridal anxiety, and eagerness that finally all those feelings that had risen up at every stolen kiss or caress would no longer be forcibly suppressed, but that they were now perfectly natural and permissible.
The knowledge, or lack of knowledge, of what was to come made an almost physical barrier between them. Elizabeth was not afraid, not of him, but she was unarguably apprehensive. Her breath came quickly, and the thick silence made her so nervous that she tripped over a small stair. Had it only been a moment, a half-moment, since they had left Jane and Bingley? She had never thought it a large staircase, nothing to Pemberley’s --
And, as quickly as that, the intense discomfort was broken when Darcy reached out and grasped her elbow, steadying her. “Elizabeth?”
She felt a rush of happiness. They were married, man and wife, and nobody would ever look askance at too many long walks together, too much time alone in a shut room, too much anything, there was nothing and no one who could tell them what they could and could not do. Or, if there was, neither had to listen. Propriety could be hanged -- when they were alone, that time belonged only to them.
It seemed as if the people who had been Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy of Pemberley were vanished to-night, or as if they were only masks that they donned before the world, and wholly unnecessary between the two of them. Darcy and Lizzy, the selves they were to their friends, they too had fled this evening. She felt as if she had been stripped bare of all but her essentials, leaving only her innermost self, the part that wasn’t a part, Elizabeth. Did he feel the same? He looked slightly anxious. Oh -- she remembered.
“Do not worry,” she said, “I am fine, I only stumbled.”
Her thoughts had taken them to the doorway she could only assume was hers. For a moment the awkwardness sprang up full-fledged again as they looked at one another.
“I . . . I will need some time. To prepare.”
“Of course.” He nodded distractedly. “Will an half-hour be sufficient?”
“Twenty minutes,” she said immediately, then coloured a little. “I will not need more than twenty minutes.”
“I shall join you then.”
He was blushing too, and she loved him all the more for it. “Shall I -- is there anything . . .” She did not have the words, or could not say them.
“Go ahead, Elizabeth, I will wait for you,” he said, with what she always thought of as his portrait-smile. She had just turned away, a little uncertainly, when he stopped her. “Except -- there is one thing -- ”
She turned her head, eagerly said, “Yes?”
“I would like -- ” he sounded breathless, and indeed took a steadying breath before continuing. “Will you leave your hair up? Just like it is now?”
Elizabeth raised one hand to the elegant coiffure Sarah had laboured over. “My hair?” she repeated wonderingly. “Well, if you would like . . .”
“I would like to see you take it down,” he said, gazing at her with an intent look that was at once familiar and very strange. It was not only desire, for that was certainly no stranger to them, but something else. Something had altered in him --
Purpose, she thought. Before he was always restrained, it was almost as if those feelings did not signify, for he would do nothing -- and now, now they do --
And perhaps there was something else, but she could not say what it was. She lowered her hand self-consciously. “Then you shall,” she said, with a bold look that could not possibly be misinterpreted, and walked to her own chambers with a kiss that was a mere whisper against his cheek. She could hear his soft laughter as she left, and felt her breath catch. She did not know exactly what the change was in him, but she was certain there was an echo of it in herself. It was certainly not unwelcome.
Elizabeth could hardly think of anyone seeing her like *this*. She thought of Mr Collins with a nervous giggle, thanking heavens that the man she would face without petticoats or lace to protect her was nothing like her cousin. It was fifteen minutes when she told Sarah, who was to go to Derbyshire with her, “That will be all.”
“But Mrs Darcy, your ha -- ”
Elizabeth felt a flush of pleasure at the title, which was still new and wonderful to her ears, and a self-consciousness still this side of embarrassment, at her hair, still coiled on the back of her head.
“That will be all,” she repeated, more forcefully.
“Yes, ma’am,” the girl said, and with a glance that was half awe, half sympathy, she slipped away. Elizabeth took a deep breath, looking at the watch she had left on the vanity. Eighteen minutes already. As if she were being married all over again, she felt her heart racing, her cheeks flushing a deep red. She had never been so indecently clad before any man -- no, she told herself sternly, it is not indecent, he is my husband. Yet he remained a man, a man who had once been rendered speechless by the sight of her ankle. She chewed her lip, turning to gaze at her reflection. In her white gown, pale with nervous anticipation, a few wayward freckles dotting her nose, she looked rather like a maiden about to sacrifice to some heathen god. Well -- Elizabeth plucked at the skirt -- no respectable maiden would venture out of doors in this. Mrs Gardiner had insisted and it was so pretty, but -- would he like it?
At that very moment, just seconds after her watch struck the twenty-minute mark, a knock came at the door, and his voice,
She felt a flutter in her belly. Nothing would ever be the same, after to-night -- she would never be the same. And he? She did not know if it was the same for men, being married and lying together. Certainly she could not look at him the same way.
Elizabeth pressed one hand against her stomach, striving for some measure of composure, and said, “Come in.”
It was very strange, she thought. In dressing-gown, slippers, and nightshirt, he was nearly as covered as in the most formal of attire, and yet it was so very different. Her eyes instantly went to his bare neck. How silly, that the sight of something so conventional and ordinary as a neck, could make her heart pound and her blood race. Yet she had never seen it, never seen any more of him exposed than his face and hands, and somehow he looked so different in that robe than in day-clothes. Taller and thinner, except through his shoulders, and -- and she longed to touch the blue silk. She liked him in blue, although she had never seen him in it. Why did he not wear it? Every other man of her acquaintance did -- why always black?
By the time she checked her rambling thoughts, Darcy had not moved at all.
“I -- I think, Fitzwilliam, that we are expected to do more than look at one another, however agreeable that might be,” she said, with the most impertinent smile she could summon up at the moment. Darcy came back to himself and shut the door behind him with an audible click.
“It is very agreeable,” he said quietly, covering the space between them in a few quick strides. “You are -- ” His eyes left hers and briefly examined her -- Elizabeth blushed -- “you are quite beautiful, my dear.”
“I -- ” She felt more uncertain than she had in her life, and since she had nothing else to hold on to, she reached out and clung to one of his hands. “I love you,” she said suddenly. “I love that you think I am beautiful.”
He reached out and briefly caressed her cheek. Her skin tingled under his fingers, and she felt her lips curving tentatively at the pleasant, soothing warmth of it. If it was like this, she thought, she need not worry, this she could bear with no awkwardness. “Are you afraid, Elizabeth?” he asked quietly.
She shook her head, nodded, then shook her head again. Darcy smiled, and she laughed. “I am not afraid of you. You would not hurt me for the world,” she said honestly. “But I am a little afraid of -- oh, not knowing. I mean, I know -- theoretically -- but that is not the same. And I want to please you, and I am afraid I will not.” They had told her to talk, but it was so difficult. She could only do her best;--Elizabeth tightened her grip on his hand.
“Elizabeth,” Darcy said, “trust me on this, there is very little you could do, to-night, that would not please me. But . . . if you are not pleased, you must tell me. In fact, you must tell me if you are pleased, as well, so I will know to . . . so I will know what brings you pleasure.”
She blushed furiously, but only held on tighter to his hands, and said, “I will;--and you will do the same?”
“I will try.”
They smiled at one another, both relieved without quite understanding why. “I did not let Sarah take my hair down,” she told him, feeling absurdly like a child presenting a treasure to her father.
“I see that,” he said, and the tips of his fingers danced along the loose tendrils of hair. This, too, was pleasant, and Elizabeth briefly closed her eyes to savour the sensation. She had always loved having her hair played with, brushed, simply touched -- anything, really. Then it occurred to her that it was decidedly unfair that he should be able to explore, while she simply stood there -- and surely he would like it, as well?
“Fitzwilliam, may I touch you?”
They were so close, she could see every grey and gold fleck in his eyes -- she watched with considerable interest as he caught his breath, staring at her with the clear eyes that had been the first thing she ever admired about him.
“Elizabeth,” he breathed, staring at her. She took that to mean “yes,” and released his hand, glancing down a moment before reaching up to touch his hair. The fine dark strands caught in her fingers, as she gently pushed some of it back.
“Your hair is exactly the colour of my aunt Gardiner’s,” she said, watching with interest as his eyes fluttered closed, just as her own had done. “It is so dark now, but you get bits of gold in it in the summer, I saw at Pemberley.”
He opened his eyes, and said, “Even then?”
“Oh, I always saw how handsome you are, my love, I am not blind.” She could hardly stop laughing at the colour that predictably rose to his cheeks. She pulled her hands back. “Did it ever bother you that anyone can see when you blush?”
“Often,” he said indistinctly. “Elizabeth -- ” he took her by the shoulders, and turned her to face the mirror. For a moment they simply looked at their shared reflection; Elizabeth took a step back, into his arms, and smiled contentedly.
“I am very happy,” she said, “did I tell you?”
“No,” he said, “I do not think you did, today.” One of his hands went to her black hair, then dropped to her neck. Elizabeth shivered.
“That is nice,” she said dreamily. “It is an odd thing, that necks should be so . . . sensitive. I never noticed before, except that it itched in early spring.”
He gave a slightly choked laugh, then froze when she whirled and eagerly pressed her lips against his throat. “I remembered -- I liked that. Do you?” she asked.
“No -- yes, I -- not yet,” he said, stepping away until he was gripping one of the bedposts. With something of his old -- and to the rest of the world, usual -- autocratic manner, he said, “Your hair, Elizabeth, take it down.”
“I may -- later?” she said, “I like necks.”
He acquired a faintly martyred look. “You may do whatever you like, later,” he said, “I will be entirely at your service. But now, take it down, I want to see you.”
“That is not what my mother said,” Elizabeth observed, glancing over her shoulder at him.
“Where did you think we all came from?”
He blushed. “Some things do not bear thinking about,” he said primly, and she laughed at him. Then she sobered, and said,
“Come here. You are too far away, and I want to see you.” He immediately acquiesced to her request, if request it could be called, walking over and leaning against a bedpost with his arms crossed, and fixing his eyes on her reflected ones. Elizabeth could not keep a slow, distinctly provocative smile from crossing her lips as she slid into the chair and raised her arms, enjoying the intent look in her husband’s eyes, and the colour burnt into his cheeks. She plucked one pin out -- then another -- and another. Sarah's work did not actually take all that many, so only a few quiet, intense moments passed before her hair fell in a mass of curls down her back. Almost immediately, he took two steps to her, and with one hand resting lightly on her neck, he reached for the brush, and began combing her hair.
Nobody mentioned anything about hair, she thought vaguely, but I like it, and if he wants to -- oh, I had better talk, like Mama and Aunt Gardiner said.
“That is nice,” Elizabeth said, “you are gentler than Sarah is.”
He smiled. “I used to brush my mother's hair. It always soothed her.”
“I do not think I need soothing.”
He laughed, a bit ruefully. “I think I do.” She realised that the hand against her neck was trembling a little.
“Are you nervous, my love?”
“Are you not?”
“I have reason to be,” she told him. “It cannot be the same for you, for any man.”
His hand stilled, and he met her eyes gravely. “I do not think -- that is, Elizabeth, this must be perfect, for you. You deserve nothing less.”
“Oh no,” said Elizabeth, “I could never bear to live with perfection. You must not think that.” She shut her eyes briefly, as he continued the smooth, regular strokes through her hair, suppressing a shiver at the tingle running through her. However lovely this was in general, the knowledge that the person wielding the brush was her husband, it was Darcy, his fingers only inches from her scalp, made the whole thing so different.
“What do you want, then?” he said, briefly halting the slow caress. Elizabeth made a murmur of protest, and with a startled, pleased smile, he began again.
“I want . . .” She tried to let go of her embarrassment, to truly give him a truthful answer. Forgetting scruples and propriety and modesty was much harder than she had thought, even when she wanted to. She had a brief, horrible picture of Lydia and Wickham, who had no such difficulties, and almost envied them for a moment. Then she thought of the life they must have together, and thought, Wickham would never ask such a question, he would never need to, and would never care enough to ask. I am glad -- glad, that Fitzwilliam has to ask, that he doesn’t know already, that this is not some sort of -- gilded seduction, that it won’t be perfect and we will be able to learn together, we will have to. I’d rather have some shyness and awkwardness, tonight, than share him, wonder every time we were together, or every time I see him with a woman, who and how many knew him as I have.
What did she want? Elizabeth shut her eyes and for a moment, stopped thinking, let the impulse of the moment guide her wishes. “Touch my hair some more,” she said, “I love that -- did you know? It feels wonderful. And then -- ” she could almost not say it. “Then, I want to touch you. And after that --” Darcy's eyebrows rose -- “you must tell me your wishes.”
When she felt his hand caress her newly-brushed hair, her eyes actually fluttered. The mirror made everything more, for she was at once both blind to what he was doing, and able to see his face, and her own. She stumbled to her feet.
“What?” he said inelegantly.
“I didn’t want it getting in the way. You took your hand away.”
“Don’t close your eyes,” he said, taking a step closer. Absently, almost as if he didn't know what it was doing, his free hand began running up and down her neck. The other, much more tentatively, went to her temple, and pushed the wayward locks out of her eyes, then running his fingers through it. “You have beautiful hair,” he said softly, “I wanted to see it like this, touch it like this, for --” He stopped, as if unable to go on.
His voice was quite different, somehow. Elizabeth blinked, tilted her head back against his shoulder, kept her eyes opened and fixed on their reflections. She could hardly believe that the man and woman staring back at them were any people she knew, let alone themselves. She looked a wild creature, a dark dryad, with her hair tumbled every which way, breathing quickly through parted lips. What did she look like to him? Certainly his expression was not one of repulsion, quite the opposite. His default expression was not one of warmth, or of anything, but his eyes were so expressive, too expressive much of the time -- to-night she did not mind, as long as they stayed open. They were fixed on her unwaveringly -- her, not the mirror-Elizabeth -- and so she could see him and he could not, could see the look of wonder in his eyes when her hair twisted around his hand, the way he stared at her, and she could also simply admire how very beautiful a man he was, somehow even more so without all the trappings of his wealth and position.
“Fitzwilliam -- ” she began to twist towards him, flooded with an odd, exulting happiness -- his hand slipped out of her hair, so she would not be hurt when she turned, and then the joy almost hurt -- “I want to -- ” She could not find the words, so she reached for his hands by the wrists, feeling the racing pulse beneath her fingertips, and somehow was comforted that he was as affected as she was. “Please,” she said plaintively, “please -- you remember that day at the Mount?--you stopped, you practically ran away, because everything happened so fast.”
He twisted his hands so that they were not simply passive in her grip, and he could hold hers in return. “I remember,” he said in a low voice. “I had no idea how I was supposed to survive another nine weeks.”
“We are married,” she said, meeting his eyes squarely, “there is nothing to stop us now.”
He simply looked at her for a moment. “If anything happens -- if you are displeased in any way -- you will say?”
“Yes, just like I promised,” she said, laughing and slipping her arms about his neck, standing on tiptoe and lifting her face. He bent his head to meet hers, one hand instinctively burying itself in her hair, the other pulling her sharply against him. Somehow the pressure of his hand seemed incongruous with the gentle tenderness of his kiss; Elizabeth blinked briefly, then excitement flooding her as she truly realised, with her whole being, that they were behind locked doors, they were married, nothing was going to stop them, and she could simply act on the impulse of the moment, as soon as it came over her. She lifted her hands to his face and held tightly to him, tilting her head and parting her lips for no other reason than because she wanted to.
At this the tenor of their embrace altered abruptly. Elizabeth almost felt it happen before it did, and out of old habit and that last hint of residual anxiety, bit down on her lip. Or rather, she meant to, but what with the different angle and being so very close and not entirely certain where her mouth began and his ended, her teeth actually grazed his lip.
“Oh! Did I hurt -- ” she began, pulling back, but the effect on her husband was so remarkable that the query was rendered quite unnecessary within seconds. He jerked her back to him, and she could feel the sudden loss of restraint in the hands that had dropped to her waist, then ran over her body lightly, as if he could not decide which part he more longed to touch. Elizabeth gasped, her eyes flying open -- *this* was certainly not soothing -- and briefly slid her lips away to his jaw, trying to catch her breath. As soon as she could, though, she returned to his mouth, pressing her body up against his, returning his feverish kisses in equal measure.
It was like that wild moment at Oakham Mount, only increased tenfold; like then, she could scarcely think for the wicked chills racing through her, and afterwards, sharp fragments of memory were all that she could recall, the rest lost in the passionate haze enveloping her. The first thrilling touch of his long fingers against her -- his cold pale flesh burning crimson against her lips when she ran them down his throat -- one brief moment of sanity when they briefly halted and stepped back, both breathing labouriously as if they had run from Longbourn to Netherfield. She met his eyes, black now, a bright sliver of colour around the edges all that remained of his irises, and already felt oddly desolate, with a bare six inches between them.
“Fitzwilliam,” she said, the first word either had spoken for what seemed like days, and her voice seemed loud and harsh in that enchanted silence -- she could not bear it and held him in her arms once more, standing on tiptoe so that she could feel his whole body against her. With a single caress, it all began again, and she was lost.
Hours, or perhaps a few seconds, passed, but the moment that most clearly leapt to her mind was when one of her sleeves fell off her shoulder, almost unaided, and her husband’s fingers immediately went there, touching her as neither he nor any other man had done. Elizabeth gave a small cry and he immediately halted, resting his forehead against hers.
“No, no, don’t stop,” she said incoherently. It was so wonderful and unexpected that her only thought was that it must not end, but her hands, almost of their own accord, went to his waist and began untying the sash of his dressing-gown, eagerly pushing it off his shoulders. Then, as his fingers on her hesitated, Elizabeth laid her own flat against his chest, something of that early awkwardness coming over her again.
“Fitzwilliam,” she whispered, “may I?” Her hand stilled over the first button.
“Yes,” he said, his voice thick, and pushed the other sleeve over her shoulder. At some point he had untied the cord and the whole thing fell down. Elizabeth gasped and pressed herself against him, every fear she had ever had about her body instantly rising up. She rapidly began unbuttoning his shirt, distracting herself as much as she could.
“Elizabeth -- wait,” he said, pulling her a little away. She gave him a reproachful look.
“You said I could -- ”
“Yes, I know -- ” He took several deep breaths. “You must not be ashamed, you are beautiful.”
“My mother always said that no man would admire my figure,” Elizabeth said, too caught up in all that had happened to guard her tongue. The man who stood before her, his hair rumpled, cheeks flushed, shirt half-unbuttoned and robe piled loose and forgotten at his feet, his eyes wide and flashing, was a creature as unlike the staid Mr Darcy as possibly could be imagined. Fitzwilliam, she thought, this is Fitzwilliam.
Mine. The primitive possessiveness that surged through her almost made her laugh at herself.
“Your mother has the dubious distinction of knowing nothing about men, despite having lived nearly five and twenty years with one,” he said, his eyes alight as he looked up and down her. “I have been admiring your figure since the third time I saw you.”
Her mouth twitched at such precision, at such a moment. “I have the advantage of you there, then,” she said, lifting her mouth to be kissed, and using his distraction to work on some more buttons.
“Elizabeth -- ”
She stopped at his waist, then lifted her eyes seriously. “May not I admire also?” Tentatively, she ran her fingers over his bared skin, laughing delightedly as his muscles reflexively contracted. “Men are very different from women, but not as different as I thought you would be.”
She thought he said “oh?” but it was difficult to tell.
“You are so tall, and your shoulders are very wide, of course,” she added conversationally. “But you are slender here at the waist, like me, and you aren’t nearly as hairy as I thought you’d be, from what my mother said.”
She tried to mimic his earlier movements, and was gratified to receive something that was half-moan, half-gasp, in return.
“No,” he said, “it’s too much, too fast -- ”
Elizabeth opened her eyes wide. “But, darling, it is only how you touched me, and I should get my turn, shouldn’t I?”
“That’s different --” and before she could reply he swung her up, one arm beneath her knees and the other at her waist. Elizabeth could not stop the laughter that bubbled out of her lips as the room whirled before her eyes, and it mingled with his own, the joyous sound echoing in her ears. For a moment, they simply looked at one another, smiling; then Elizabeth, enjoying the novelty of looking down at him, leaned down and languorously kissed her husband.
“Elizabeth,” he breathed against her mouth, his eyes shining; he broke their gaze only long enough to look around for a chair that would adequately support their combined weight in whatever passionate interlude would come next.
Elizabeth locked her arms around his neck and rested her cheek against his hair. “Fitzwilliam,” she whispered, “take me to bed.”
Posted on Thursday, 28 September 2006
Elizabeth Darcy woke with no doubts as to who and where she was. This undoubtedly was owing in large degree to the presence of her husband in the bed they shared. It was not her bed -- she had never slept it in it before this night. They were in a borrowed room in a rented estate. Somehow it was impossible to feel quite at home in such a place.
On the other hand, they had discovered any number of small conveniences. Darcy preferred to have the right side of the bed, she the left. Neither of them snored or made any other odd noises in the night -- not, at least, while they were asleep. Elizabeth tended to be too hot to rest comfortably, and Darcy too cold, but neither had any such difficulties when they were together. Last night, after they tiredly wrapped themselves around each other, they had quickly and contentedly fallen asleep in a tangled pile of arms and legs and hair and sheets.
Elizabeth blinked up at the ceiling. She felt a little sluggish, as if she had slept in.
Which, given the light pouring through the window, she undoubtedly had. Elizabeth stretched and carefully extricated herself from her husband. She could not see his face -- he did not sleep on his back, as she did, so beyond silk-covered shoulders and a mop of dark hair, she could only make out the outline of his figure beneath the covers.
She walked to the window, wincing a little. There was a residual soreness although, at the time, the slight sharp pain had been almost entirely subsumed in the pleasure.
It was another bright wintry day. Elizabeth tightened her robe, a little self-conscious, and glanced back at her slumbering husband. She had rather enjoyed lying so close against him, skin-to-skin, but of course she did not want any servants to see her like that, and even more she did not want any servants to see Darcy like that. She had never imagined herself to have a jealous disposition, so the extent of her possessive feelings both startled and amused her.
He had not actually mentioned that consideration. When she first asked what he needed his robe for, he blushed and said he was not a savage to go about without a stitch of clothing on.
“Am I a savage then, dearest?” she asked. Darcy laughed low in his throat -- a very different sort of sound from his usual laughter; she had told him it sounded like a purr, which only made him laugh more -- and gently stroked her hair off her forehead.
“Only occasionally,” he said.
Elizabeth smiled to herself as she remembered, letting her forehead rest against the glass. She would have liked to see the sun rise this morning, but then, the park was so unattractive, it no doubt would have been disappointing. That was something she wanted to save for Pemberley. She felt suspended between her past and the future; only when she was at Pemberley would she really step into her new life. Everything would begin there.
She turned her head and caught a glimpse of her reflection. She walked over, wondering how she would look this morning. Yesterday, the self in the mirror had been a small, slender girl with wide curious dark eyes and freckles dotting her small straight nose. And now?
She looked back at herself. She had not grown in stature, her freckles had not vanished with her father’s name, and not even her husband’s could add dignity to her nose. The clear brown complexion and narrow face, the plain gold chain about her neck, the sharp pointed chin and quizzical smile, they were all the same. Yet as she instinctively raised her hand to her stomach, the sapphires in her ring glinted. She caught her breath, and took a step closer. Her eyes were different; the same in shape and colour, but the expression utterly unlike anything that had ever been there before. More thoughtful, but still merry; at once less confident and more so. This was someone different from the girl Lizzy.
It crossed her mind that this was the person Darcy saw when he looked at her. To him, she would never be the young whimsical girl her family and friends thought they knew, just as the boy holding his mother was someone she could never truly know. She had always been, and would always be, the woman Elizabeth to him.
“Elizabeth? Where are you?”
She whirled to look at the bed. Darcy had not moved; he seemed to have barely stirred, then reached out for her and found her gone. Without a second thought she dove for the bed, catching only a brief glimpse of her clothes lying haphazardly across the floor, his neatly folded on a chair.
“I was looking at the mirror,” she said, pressing her feet against his legs.
“Elizabeth, your feet are cold,” he complained, but only held her a little closer.
“I wanted to see if I seemed very different, after . . . after . . .” She couldn’t keep blood from rushing to her cheeks, and looked away shyly. Darcy sat up, pushing his hair out of his eyes. She idly noticed that it was much less tangled and generally chaotic than her own. “You look different,” she added, reaching out to touch his cheek. The small growth of beard was harsh against her fingers. She had never seen him so; she could not think whether she liked it or not. “This is much lighter than your hair. That must be why you always look clean-shaven.”
“I daresay.” He moved the covers aside and stood up, absently straightening his robe. “I ought to shave and get dressed. I must look wild.”
Elizabeth considered. “Well, rather.” At his grimace, she added, “There is something to be said for the occasional wildness.”
“I beg your pardon?” He looked over his shoulder at her.
“Under good regulation, of course.” She swung her legs out. “Fitzwilliam, you have been awake for nearly three minutes and you have not kissed me yet. I expected a more dutiful husband.”
She was pleased that he no longer looked vaguely distressed as he often did at such banter during their engagement. Instead, he laughed and walked over to where she sat at the edge of the bed, bending down to kiss her soundly; not as a cautious lover, but with the easy passion of a young husband.
She was of half a mind to lift up her arms and kiss him again, when there was a tentative knock at the door. Both looked at it with some chagrin.
“I think that must be Sarah,” she said ruefully. Her cheek stung, and she touched it. “You were quite right, Fitzwilliam.”
“You need to shave before you kiss me.”
His mouth twitched. “Of course -- and you need to talk to your maid. She sounds urgent.” His gait was as light as she had ever seen it when he walked back to his own chambers, absently picking up her clothes and folding them on his way out. Elizabeth felt almost dazed by the sparkling cheerfulness suddenly pervading the plain, borrowed room, and she opened her door with a cheerful smile.
The maid looked deeply apologetic. “Mrs Darcy, I did not mean to inter -- I mean, I thought you might . . . you said not to come until you called for me, but they said . . .”
“Sarah,” Elizabeth said kindly, “what is it?”
“Your mother, mi -- ma’am. Mrs Bingley has been with her these fifteen minutes. And then Mr Bingley came down and Mrs Bennet was wanting to know all sorts of things, and asking ever so many questions -- ” there was an unfamiliar trace of censure in her tone -- “and so they sent me.”
Elizabeth had never heard the girl speak in such a fashion. But, of course, she was Sarah’s mistress now. The maid’s loyalty was no longer to the Bennets, but the Darcys. Undoubtedly she would pass on servants’ gossip to Elizabeth as her mother did to Mrs Bennet.
“Thank you, Sarah. I will be down before long.”
Sarah looked deeply relieved. “Shall I help you dress, madam?”
“That should not be necessary to-day,” Elizabeth said, “just go downstairs and tell them what I said.” Sarah bobbed a curtsey and Elizabeth, shutting the door behind her, sighed. She did love her mother, in her way, but Darcy had not been entirely misreading her when he concluded that she would not wish to be settled near Longbourn. It would be three days’ travel in good weather. Mrs Bennet would never trust her nerves to a journey through Derbyshire, at least not in winter.
There were most assuredly more benefits to being married than her husband’s fine person. “Fitzwilliam,” she called. Darcy, restored to his usual black-clad, clean-shaven, impeccable self, almost immediately returned to her room.
“What was it, Elizabeth?”
“My mother,” she said. “She is here.”
Darcy’s eyebrows rose. “Now? Why, it is only -- ”
“I know.” Elizabeth sighed. It was silly to wish for her mother to be different; she would never change. “Jane and Bingley are with her.”
“We should probably join them.” Darcy had half-turned, suiting actions to words, when Elizabeth stopped him with a touch on his arm.
With a smile, she said, “Sometimes Jane is too good for the rest of us. Saintly as she is, I have no inclination to follow her example. We will be down in our own time.”
“As you wish.”
This was a touch too much docility. Elizabeth threw him a suspicious look over her shoulder.
“I have not Bingley’s apparent desire to please and be pleased by the whole world. If you feel yourself in no great hurry -- well, she is your mother. I will follow your lead in this.”
“An important caveat!” She looked around randomly for her brush. “What should I wear?”
“There is certainly no danger of my growing too agreeable to be endured. Elizabeth -- ” He pulled out a drawer and handed the brush to her with a faintly bemused expression. “No wonder your father insisted on sending the maid with you.”
“It is your fault. You’re distracting me.”
“You did not want me to leave,” he pointed out, looking very handsome and very out-of-place. He was always a striking figure of a man, but amid the feminine frills and fripperies of the room, the effect was heightened an hundredfold. Elizabeth abruptly realised how underdressed she was, compared to her fully-clad husband, and to hide the sudden awkward embarrassment she felt, went searching through the clothes suitable for travelling, throwing them about in her usual haphazard manner. Darcy prudently stepped away from the bed, where he had been perched, and watched with his arms folded and one eyebrow raised.
“There, it has to be one of these,” she declared. “Do you like blue or yellow better?”
“I -- Elizabeth, why are you asking me? I know as little as any brother is permitted on the subject. Surely anyone else would provide a better-informed opinion.”
She laughed. “Fitzwilliam, nearly always, a woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it.”
“And yet you ask me,” he observed.
“You did not let me finish. Then -- then she is married.” She met his bemused eyes. Would it always be like this, she wondered? Would there always be this rush of happiness at the mere sight of him? Hers was a naturally affectionate disposition, but this -- this was quite out of the ordinary realm. “You cannot think I care anything for any other person’s pleasure in me,” she added more seriously.
He blinked a moment, swallowed, then said judiciously, “I prefer you in yellow.”
She beamed. “So do I. It is my favourite colour, you know.”
“I know.” In his usual disconnected way, he said, “You were wearing yellow at Pemberley.”
“I was! That was my favourite dress.” She hummed a little to herself as she changed her clothes. “Fitzwilliam, help me.”
“What can I do?” He sounded appalled.
“I cannot reach all the buttons. I forgot that this one is so complicated.”
The awkwardness in his usually graceful hands made her laugh, as he struggled to manage the small buttons, and the warmth of his breath against her shoulder made her turn around and kiss him without forethought or care, her hands tightening on his neck. He was surprised but by no means unenthusiastic; his lips lingered on hers a moment before they parted.
Despite his sudden high colour, he said composedly, “You never combed your hair, dear.”
She could not keep herself from wrinkling her nose at him, and sat down with a flounce. “It would serve you right if I had sent you to face my mother alone and let Sarah help me. She is becoming quite the martinet. ‘You must not forget your robe, Mrs Darcy.’ ‘You must not forget your tea, Mrs Darcy.’ ‘If you say so, Mrs Darcy’ with the most impertinent look! Although it is really because she is only frightened, poor thing. She is as afraid of erring as Georgiana, I think.”
“I will tell Mrs Reynolds to be gentle with her,” said Darcy.
“I can manage well enough on my own, I am not used to having my own maid. Jane and I always shared her before,” she admitted. “There.” She finished pinning up the last curl and turned to face him. “Am I handsome enough to tempt you?”
He gazed at her for a moment, an expression of quiet pleasure on his face. Then he straightened and extended his arm. “My dear Elizabeth, I hope you know by now that I find you infinitely tempting.”
“It is very wrong of you to say such things,” she replied, laughing, “soon I shall be in danger of losing my composure.”
He studied her intently for a moment. She could not read his look, it was unfamiliar -- or rather -- she caught the mischievous glint she had seen once before a moment too late. With the door open, allowing any passer-by to see them -- she fully prepared to don the mask of Mrs Darcy of Pemberley, he captured her face in his hands and allowed his lips to lightly and briefly dance over hers, a bare hint of a kiss that was clearly meant to tantalise rather than satisfy.
She raised her brows, inwardly wondering how her lips could still be tingling from that. “You are looking very satisfied with yourself, Mr Darcy.”
“I am very satisfied with myself, Mrs Darcy,” he said unashamedly. “To day, I am satisfied with everyone.”
“That I can understand.” She smiled up at him, then added, as they went downstairs, “Let us hope you include my mother in that statement. My composure does not seem quite what it was.”
Elizabeth could not help blushing as she entered the parlour. Not only her mother, but her sisters and father, were present. Her first thought was to scold Sarah, the next to hold more tightly to Darcy’s arm, standing straight and proud at his side. Perhaps she did not look very different, although Kitty and Mrs Bennet did not think so by the volume of their exclamations over her gown, but she knew where her place was.
Still, there was a sadness too, particularly once it was all over and she was kissing them all good-bye, for the final time. She loved her father, and yet simply knowing Darcy, let alone loving him, had made a divide between them. Seeing what a man of sense and wit and intelligence could be, and seeing what her father was, left a bitter taste of disappointment in her mouth. She had seen his failings before, but never in such sharp relief.
It was a revelation, that she loved the part of her husband that was Mr Darcy as much as Fitzwilliam, the grave, inscrutable man quiet at her side, as well as the tender, passionate one who in her arms cried out her name. She could not keep her eyes from returning to his face again and again, only for snippets of moments, but it was enough.
“Goodbye, Papa,” she said, glad of the reassuring warmth of Darcy’s hand against her back. “Kitty, Mary -- ” She was surprised to see the younger of her sisters with tear-filled eyes; she had never had much to do with the two middle girls.
“I will write, I promise,” she said.
Kitty sniffled. “Lydia said she would write, too.”
“Oh, Kitty. I would not give my word if I did not mean to keep it.”
Kitty nodded and embraced her once more. “I will miss you, Lizzy.” She looked fearfully at Darcy, who was talking to Bingley with the air of a fretful mother hen whose chick has just leapt head first out of the nest.
Elizabeth smiled fondly at her husband, whose stern expression lightened as he met her eyes. Kitty glanced from one to the other, blushing, then bit her lip and at his approach extended her hand.
“Mr Darcy,” she said bravely, “I hope you will be very happy.”
He was very surprised but clasped it. He did not kiss it, as Wickham would have, and Elizabeth rather thought it a relief -- Kitty might have fainted otherwise. “Thank you, Catherine.”
“I am glad you are our brother, you will take proper care of us,” she blurted out. Elizabeth was not sure whether to be gratified for her husband’s sake or share her father’s pain; she decided on the former as she accepted Mary’s grave good wishes, then turned to her last, or first, sister.
“Oh, Jane. How long shall it be before I see you again?”
They embraced one another tightly, exchanging fervent promises to write. “Do not forget that you are the mistress of Netherfield,” Elizabeth whispered. Jane laughed.
“I shan’t. Oh Lizzy -- take care.”
“I will want you, I know I shall. How shall I get along without you?”
“I would not know better than you,” Jane said seriously.
“No, but you would assure me that whatever I did was right!” She clasped her sister’s hands tightly. “Goodbye, Jane.”
“Goodbye, Lizzy.” Jane was unashamedly weeping. Elizabeth kissed everyone goodbye a final time, then gravitated to her husband’s side.
“Fitzwilliam,” said she, and he needed no more than that. They bid their last farewells, Darcy shook Mr Bennet’s and Bingley’s hands, helped her into the carriage, and their journey began.
To Pemberley they were to go.