The Oak and the Ash

Chapter 6

Elizabeth startled seeing her husband in their apartments at Netherfield. It seemed as if she had searched every corner of Hertfordshire for him that afternoon, but in vain; and it had not crossed her mind to look for Mr. Darcy in so evident a place as their own bedchamber. She was quite unsure if her spirits willed her to run straight into Darcy’s arms for the relief in seeing him safe and sound, or if she would rather scold him for giving her cause to think he had come to some sort of harm. The young wife was learning that the measures of a man now and then brought out the best, and the worst, in a woman’s countenance.

Instead of having a go at either behavior, Elizabeth simply declared, “I thought that you were a ghost.”

“There are no ghosts in this neighborhood,” Darcy asserted wryly while buttoning a tidy waistcoat in preparation for a late supper, “though there do seem to be a few skeletons in closets of Longbourn.”

A perturbed mutter slipped from Elizabeth’s lips for having suffered the distress from a brisk walk in the heat and the anxiety borne from concern for a husband’s well-being. A solitary bead of moisture brought on by nothing more than physical exertion rolled down Elizabeth’s glowingly colored cheek and she swiftly whisked it way with the back of her hand before it was noted.

“I should ask where you have been this whole day, husband,” she dared to counter Darcy, needling him in a manner that a man certainly dislikes, “but I have it on good authority that you were at Longbourn, and then came here to Netherfield by way of the church.”

Darcy gave a curt nod in affirmation of Elizabeth’s account of his whereabouts. He appeared neither angry nor upset, or did it seem to Elizabeth as if he was terribly happy. In fact, Mr. Darcy’s demeanor was by and large typical for the man Elizabeth had known before their own courtship. The one thing captivating Darcy’s attention at present was the problematic task of fastening every single swathed and steely-eyed button on each article of clothing that he wore.

Darcy’s indifference in the wake of controversy vexed Elizabeth, and so she pressed him for answers to questions that perhaps a wife of more understanding than that of a mere six months of marriage would have considered prudent.

“I also know that you are privy to the particulars of that ridiculous dream that I had.”

“I am,” Darcy sighed, exhibiting a small hint of emotion in the form of a frown as Elizabeth mentioned the dream; “I had some inkling of it; at least enough to come by the general idea.”

“I think you do not know the whole of it, husband, for you do not know my feelings on the subject.”

“That is true,” he fidgeted as he spoke, turning his attention to primp his necktie in the mirror, “It is difficult to know your feelings when you have taken great pains to hide them.”

Elizabeth at once felt her ill humor reprehensible; “I would not wish to keep confidences from you, but I thought it would hurt you to confess that I dreamt of something as preposterous as having wed another man—and so I kept the details to myself to keep the peace in our marriage.”

One could see that Darcy’s temper took a turn for the worse, and with a huff of annoyance, he gave up on the necktie. “Do you know what vexes me about this whole affair, Elizabeth?” he spoke heatedly, “What annoys me most is that you choose to conceal every tidbit of information from me—information that you find necessary and even prudent to tell others.”

Elizabeth snorted in incredulous denial of such an accusation, “I do not tell others every tidbit.”

“I am astonished,” Darcy snickered in exasperation; “for it seems that all of Hertfordshire knows of your imaginings.” He pondered a moment, and then wondered rhetorically, “Is there no privacy in the country?”

Elizabeth sighed to calm herself, wishing many things to be different. She lovingly reached for Darcy’s sleeve without his asking, and she fastened those buttons that he could not. “Surely,” she asked, “you have dreamt of something so ridiculous as to cause yourself embarrassment?”

Darcy colored at the question, and at Elizabeth’s unknown trap; for the reason he had nearly been ill that morning had been the effect of his own absurd dream. Restlessly, he replied, “Of course I have.”

“That is a relief,” Elizabeth grinned calmly as she reached for his other starched and ruffled sleeve, “for I was pondering the conjectures of Miss Bingley, that perhaps you are very nearly perfect.”

“Good lord,” Darcy exhaled, prickly at best. “Of course I have foolish dreams—though I would be hard pressed to celebrate any such information of the like with anyone of my acquaintance.”

“Yes—exactly!” Elizabeth felt victorious; her point having been made as her fingers nimbly secured the very last button. “You would not be apt to share such a thing with me, as I have not shared with you for the very same reason.”

It took Darcy a moment to consider what had just occurred. If Elizabeth was the one to find his indifference maddening, then it was Darcy who found his wife’s bent to match wits with him on every level, impertinent at best, particularly when she was correct. For every ounce of knowledge that Fitzwilliam Darcy had gleaned from life thus far, knowledge that Elizabeth admired—the poor man was quickly realizing that he knew little of wives and women.

Though Elizabeth’s spirit oftentimes caused Darcy headache and pause, he had to admit he found that very spirit besotting. It was Darcy’s delight to love Elizabeth as he did—and perhaps it was his curse.

Elizabeth intruded on the man’s thoughts; “So you went to the church to see the book for yourself?”

“I did.”

“Tell me the truth, Fitzwilliam. Tell me why you are so cross and troubled?”

Darcy took the defensive at his wife’s prying. “So now we are to be truthful with one another?”


“Very well,” he did submit in frustration, “I am jealous.”

Though Elizabeth was somewhat flattered by his answer, in the back of her mind she had her doubts that the unflappable Mr. Darcy could feel threatened by the silliness of one young, spirited girl.

“It was only a scribble in jest,” she dismissed warily, “and I wish for the sake of easing your temperament that I had never done it.”

Darcy did not reply. He sat down in the leather chair by the window, his eyes fixed on his wife. To Elizabeth, the whole matter was childish nonsense. She had no reason to believe that someone might use a harmless prank for ill, and that her girlish impetuousness could one day be the cause of harm to good men, and the advantage of one so wicked.

“Say something” she was overcome by a feeling of dread, “I beg you.”

“Oh Elizabeth,” Darcy sighed, empathy in his voice, “I too wish you had not written your name in that ledger. Though what I would wish for does not seem to matter much at all to anyone this day—except perhaps for Bingley’s dog.”

“Bingley’s dog?”

“Never mind,” Darcy chuckled; the sound of his laughter making Elizabeth appear more at ease.

“Am I forgiven?” she smiled and swiftly knelt beside her husband.

Darcy reached for Elizabeth’s hand, his fingers intertwining hers in love; albeit after a few moments, his grip tightened, not to cause pain, but as a means of keeping his wife by his side. Elizabeth looked at him in wonder, for the action was commanding and possessive.

“I will not have you go to the church on your own, Elizabeth,” he directed, plainly.

Elizabeth was stunned; Darcy as her betrothed, her husband, her lover, had never before denied her such basic liberties.

“But tomorrow is Sunday, and I was to help lay the linens on the altar before the service.”

“You will not go there without me,” he declared, still gripping her hand and awaiting a promise.

Elizabeth shuddered. As Darcy’s wife she would not go against his wish, even if it caused her heartache. It was the way of the world in which they lived; Elizabeth knew it and was bound to obey, by law and by vow.

“I will not go to the church without you—but I beg you, why? I do not understand.”

“It is late,” Darcy evaded her question. “Bingley will be wanting supper. You had better dress.”

Darcy released Elizabeth’s hand and she stood up; stopping only to dip an obedient curtsy to her husband before making her way toward the dressing chamber door. Elizabeth’s exhibition was filled with the spite of misinterpretation; though of her meaning Darcy was keenly aware. Darcy stood up from the chair, feeling the painful stab of such an act in his soul; but he let it pass without acknowledgement.

Before she could leave the room, Elizabeth spun around to face Darcy; her usually rosy cheeks drained by an abnormal pallor. Though instead of having her last say in the argument, her hand flew to her mouth to stifle a sob of resentment at what they had both done in anger. With great haste she ran to her husband, and her arms seized his neck pulling him tightly into an anxious embrace. Darcy held to her fast, for the very same reasons, and he kissed her trembling lips; afterward veiling his face in the thick curls of her hair in hopes that Elizabeth would remain unaware of his own quaking.

The dining room of Netherfield house was a quiet spot that evening, for the only thing that could be heard was the fervent scraping of Mr. Bingley’s knife and fork against the good china as he polished off the last morsels of turbot terrine. He was the only one in the room with much of an appetite at all, or enthusiasm for anything in particular.

“Do you fancy a game after supper, Darcy?”

Fitzwilliam Darcy did not hear his friend, as he was far too engaged in aimlessly pushing turbot about on his plate with a sterling fish knife; lost in thought. Elizabeth glanced at her husband, seeing that his demeanor had changed very little since making amends earlier that evening. Her loving kisses and her tender devotion had always set her husband to right, before now; this time was different. In earnest Elizabeth looked to Charles Bingley for a much needed diversion to whisk away Darcy’s sullenness.

“A game would be splendid. I might even play at cards if you like,” she cajoled.

“I was thinking more of billiards,” Bingley proposed.

Elizabeth at once turned to Jane, marveling as to when her sister was to speak her mind to her husband and insist that he should spend at least a portion of his waking hours in her company. Jane was not that sort of wife.

“Cards would be good, dear,” Jane finally spoke.

“No,” Bingley supposed with certainty, “I had pocket billiards in mind.”

“But we would not play at billiards, dearest. Only you and Mr. Darcy.”

“Well—yes. What do you say, Darcy?”

Darcy startled, “Were you addressing me, Bingley?”

Charles Bingley had reached his wits end with his friend. “I say—have you gone raving mad today in this heat? Billiards, Darcy—a game of billiards?”


Jane sighed in defeat; and Elizabeth, for all her understanding of men, could not see how Mr. Bingley could choose to take no notice of such a beauty as was his wife, and prefer pocket billiards with Darcy over enjoying Jane’s smiles. Elizabeth looked to her sister, a glower that imparted to Jane that Elizabeth was in danger of losing her patience and her temper for the whole state of affairs at Netherfield house.

“My darling,” Jane was quick to convey an endearment to her husband.

Mr. Bingley smiled and amiably replied, “Yes?”

“Might I have a private word with you before you retire to the billiard room?”

“By all means,” Bingley was generous. He stood up from the table, as did Darcy by expected duty, but before Jane led her husband away from the room, she mustered a look of great determination seldom seen gracing her sweet face, and she directed it toward her sister.

Elizabeth had no other occupation now than to sit and wonder about her own husband. “Would you leave us?” she inquired of the footman on post, and the servant bowed and made for the door.

“If we cannot have a certain conversation without suffering hurt feelings,” Elizabeth gingerly spoke to Darcy; “then might I make a bold proposal?”

Darcy managed a slight smile for the demonstration of Elizabeth’s resolve. “And what is that?”

“That you be so inclined to play only one game of billiards with Mr. Bingley—so that my sister might have the good company of her husband this night, of which she is very hopeful, and woefully lacking.”

“You are getting at something,” Darcy suspiciously quizzed.

Elizabeth nodded, “Only as to why our brother chooses to evade his wife.”

“That is very bold of you, Elizabeth,” Darcy raised a curious brow of temperance. “Do you really think it our place to interfere?”

“No,” she turned her face away from a husband’s discerning eyes, “I do not. It seems as though I am quite deserving of your censure today, sir.”

Darcy pressed the matter, for her sake and for his own, “Perhaps knowing the particulars is not always the right answer to questions. I am beginning to consider Elizabeth that there are some things that one should never know—and some things one should never dare tell.”

“All I know is that my sister desires her husband the way that he was—as I would wish the same for myself, with my own husband.”

An awkward silence fell upon the lovers in the room as Darcy considered subtlety the best remedy in such a situation. He could not be the man that he was—he could not be the husband that Elizabeth wanted, at the moment. He was far too engaged in being her champion to be an agreeable husband to her every notion—and he was not inclined to tell her why.

“I have heard of quite a few reasons,” he spoke with a slight grin, “muttered in a London club, as to why a man would wish to avoid his wife—though I tend not to believe in any one of them; as even the most tempting of diversions would not be worth the pain of coming home to an unhappy wife.”

Elizabeth giggled at such a cheeky reply, and Darcy was happy for having made her laugh. It was the first time in days that Elizabeth had seen Darcy smile with genuine mirth and affection, and she loved and admired him more that way, than any other.

“Have at it, Bingley,” Darcy said while slipping off his evening coat and tossing it onto the back of a chair occupied solely by Bingley’s lap dog. Darcy patted the little cur on the head, and then selected himself a suitable cue stick while Charles Bingley racked the billiard balls near to the mark on the felt.

The billiard table took up a good portion of the dark and paneled game room. The houseman had lit the candles suspended above the table, and also the sconces on the walls. Fine beeswax candles had been placed throughout the room, made from good local Hertfordshire beeswax, not tallow as some might suspect would serve the purpose for a gentleman’s game room, for Charles Bingley took his play very seriously and insisted on a brighter sort of illumination.

Bingley grinned as he passed Darcy on his way to choose his own billiard cue, but Darcy understood this to be a shrewd part of how the game was played, although he himself had always found a greater fulfillment in unsettling an opponent by the ploy of a more reticent stare. Bingley took aim and struck the cue ball against the triangle of others with great muscle but little grace, as none happened to end up in the intended pockets.

“Bad luck,” Darcy remarked on Bingley’s misfortune per the conventions of friendly camaraderie, and the unsuccessful young man shrugged.

Bingley, however, had left Darcy in very good position on the table, and the gentleman had clear aim at the proposed objectives. Bingley watched in silence as his friend played out the game with very little trouble or effort, until a ball tucked far back in the corner tripped up Darcy before he could finish such a trouncing.

It was Darcy’s turn to watch and wait, and he was patient as Bingley finally made a decent shot. “I thought you would not give me the chance to make a game of it, Darcy,” Bingley smiled as the ball rolled tediously into the pocket.

“If providence had been kinder,” Darcy bluffed, “I would not have given you the chance. My father told me years ago that life is not fair, Bingley; and there are some days the stark reality of this fact creeps up and knocks me square between the eyes.”

Charles Bingley turned his attention away from the table and toward his friend. “No it is not fair,” he spoke as if he found great truth in the statement. “Life is not fair at all.”

Darcy somehow felt affronted, for he had not known Bingley to suffer at all this day, and he wondered about his friend, “What in your life could possibly not be fair, Bingley? You have an excellent wife, a fine house, and you make good friends wherever you go.”

Darcy did muster a grin, pointing the cue stick toward the chair before completing his cynical and ungentlemanly thoughts, “Why you even have such a smart thing as a lap dog. What more could life possibly hold?”

Bingley attempted another good shot, but was unsuccessful in the endeavor, and nearly scratched. Darcy saw his chance, having one last play upon the table, and he skillfully took up aim and finished off his opponent. Darcy’s first triumph of that day gave him cause for some joy, and he laid the cue stick across the table and reached above for the rack in preparation for another game.

“That is all, Darcy—just one game,” Bingley spoke, astonishing his friend, for everyone knew that Charles Bingley was a billiards enthusiast to the last.

Darcy recalled Elizabeth’s request before she had retired to their chambers to wait for his return. “Just one game,” she had asked of him—for her sister’s sake.

“Very well then,” Darcy replied, picking up his cue, “I will play out another round or two myself, if you do not mind. Your little dog will make good enough company for me—it would seem we get on quite well. Good night, Bingley.”

Charles Bingley placed his cue stick back in the rack on the wall. “You might think me very privileged,” he spoke, quite melancholy for a man with so little troubles, “but life has not been that kind to me, Darcy—not of late, at least.”

Darcy in fact was curious upon hearing the hitch in his friend’s voice. He hung up his own cue stick, and he leaned against the table willing to hear out what Bingley wished to tell. Admittedly, Darcy was not very comfortable or skilled in listening to the predicaments of others, though he figured, now that he was a steady, married man, that he would give it a shot.

“Is there some way that I can be of service, Charles?”

“Most likely not,” Bingley sighed, “but I suppose now I have said too much to remain silent any longer. I had not told you, Darcy—though I have reason to believe that perhaps Jane has informed her sister, and you no doubt have received knowledge of our troubles from your wife.”

“I know of nothing,” Darcy was indeed blameless. “I do know one thing however—that Elizabeth can be trusted with the confidence of another—even if she is not so faithful with those confidences of her own.”

Bingley sighed for his own troubles, “I admit I have been quite low since Jane fell ill.”

Darcy’s jaw twitched on hearing such unforeseen and shocking news. “Jane is ill?”

“Not at present, but she was some weeks ago. I was to write to you then with our good news, and we were to go to Longbourn for supper that evening to tell all of our family of our joy—that we were to expect a child come mid spring. Instead, I sent a message to Longbourn that morning saying that Jane had been put to bed with a headache, although that was not quite true. I could not bring myself to say that—that Jane had lost her child early that morning.”

Darcy was grieved, and he rather had wished that Elizabeth had told him of such a dreadful happenstance, although this time he understood why she had not. At once he did fret for the words he had only moments before spoken to Bingley, for although teasing, they now seemed justly unkind in their delivery.

“I am sorry, Charles—truly I am,” Darcy imparted words of respect to his friend. “I did not intend to be heartless—I did not mean to imply anything cruel by what I said.”

“Thank you, Darcy,” Bingley smiled. “I would never have thought it of you.”

Darcy was grateful for the kindness and good understanding of his friend. He thought he could do well for having Charles Bingley as a model of a man willing to forgive the shallowness of his peers, for Darcy had been lucky to have been granted Bingley’s forgiveness on more than one occasion.

“But Darcy,” Bingley looked queerly ill as he spoke. “I am having some trouble being in the good company of my wife. I have no wish to see her suffer again—like she did. I believe that she cried for a whole week together, and there was not a thing that I could say or do to persuade her from feeling otherwise. I can tell you that her melancholy appears to be forgotten now—but I cannot seem to forget how useless I was to her, and I must say that I think that I am afraid to be near her; and I am loathe to wonder that such a thing will happen again.”

Darcy was astounded by his friend’s declaration, for that must have indeed been a difficult thing for any man to admit. Darcy was not sure as to what he could say—or as to what Bingley would want him to offer up as advice, but he laid out the only words of wisdom that came to his brain.

“Charles, I do not come by the impression that your wife does not desire your companionship—quite the opposite, I think. If she was not keen to be a wife and a mother, I am convinced that you would know of her feelings.”

“She is so beautiful, so delicate and fine, and how I want to be near her,” Bingley fretted. “But whereas your wife would tell you of her feelings, Darcy, it is not always so with Jane. Our hearts have been broken, and any other attitude is too much of a risk.”

“If I thought that everything I did was a risk, Charles, I would never dare leave my house,” Darcy was certain of what he was saying; yet he thought about the restrictions that he had only this evening placed on Elizabeth and therefore he did not consider himself a fine example for lending truthful advice.

Darcy felt dull indeed, for here was a friend suffering and seeking counsel, and Darcy had nothing of sense to offer. “Perhaps you should tell your troubles to Reverend Goodwin,” he managed to say something of higher logic.

“It is difficult, Darcy.”

Darcy had to agree, and he breathed out a sigh to save the room from awkward stillness. The candle before his eyes flickered and he came to notice the shape of a moth dancing back and forth against the open flame. Darcy studied it for a moment, and oddly in spectacle of the choreography of the lowly creature he could see a mystery yet to be solved.

“I wonder that we are not so much like this poor sot,” Darcy pointed out the insect to his friend.

“What have we to do with a moth, Darcy?”

“This morning I would have thought nothing of it, but it occurs to me now Bingley that men are like moths—this candle quite like a woman; and we are so tempted and so persuaded by the charms of what we see before us that we cannot resist what troubles might be ahead—even if we know that we could surely be razed by such a flame and end up reduced to a pile of worthless ash should we pursue what we desire.”

Charles Bingley looked perplexed by the metaphor, for he was a literal person by nature. Darcy put his hand up between the flame and the moth, but still the pest twirled about, hither and to, over and yon, seeking what it desired most.

“It has no choice, Bingley—it only does what nature tell it is right,” Darcy did his best to explain. “You and I are like this moth, except perhaps in some instances I would like to believe that we are a little more fastidious in our adoration for the object, for not every woman possesses such a light.”

Bingley chuckled, “Perhaps you have a point, Darcy. You should write the observation down in a paper and have it published.”

Darcy laughed, “I think not.” Truly, Darcy was troubled and he wanted so much to be able to tell another person of his predicament, yet for Elizabeth’s sake, he would not dare. “I suppose we are not that simple,” he confessed. “Only man loves, and only men do everything in their power to save what it is that they love—yet every living thing on earth wants to survive.”

“I wanted an heir,” Charles Bingley said in regret, “And I do still.”

“And I wanted to be the only man for her,” Darcy whispered to himself.

Bingley looked baffled, “Eh, Darcy?”

Darcy’s attitude changed; and he grinned at his friend, managing to find four words of definite encouragement, “Go to bed, Bingley.”

“I shall,” Charles Bingley smiled, a glint in his eyes returned for the better. He scooped up his lap dog into his arms before departing and gave it a scratch upon the head, “Good night, Darcy.”

Fitzwilliam Darcy was quite alone in the billiard room; his attention utterly captivated as the moth encircled the flame, coming closer and closer to harm each time that it passed by the light. At once the flame singed at the creature’s wings and it was fortunate to have shied away from certain disaster, if only for a few fleeting seconds before absolute temptation drew it back to the source of its passion yet again.

The houseman came to the billiard room door, holding out a letter for Mr. Darcy. The gentleman snapped it up immediately and hastily broke the seal, reading each word contained within the missive with careful detail, frowning as he did so.

“Should I put out the lights, sir?” Bingley’s man asked.

“Yes,” Darcy replied, folding the missive.

Fitzwilliam Darcy watched as the houseman extinguished the flames of each candle—one by one, all with the exception of the candle directly before him—the very source of the moth’s great obsession. Darcy could not bear to witness another second of such torment, and so he reached out an arm in one deft motion and caught the insect within the palm of his strong, capable hand.

He slowly walked to the front doors of Netherfield house; and Mr. Darcy did pitch the insect out into the night sky, showing the poor, unfortunate creature the best means of escape. The simple moth was free to pursue its obsession elsewhere—toward the light of the moon for all the good that would come of it; and such was the difference between something so untamed in its pursuit of passion, and the ever steady Fitzwilliam Darcy.


Attending the morning service at her beloved Longbourn church had been a welcome removal from the sting of wounded pride Elizabeth Darcy had recently come to know as a young wife. The serenity of sitting within the aged, hewn stone walls provided her an opportunity for reflection without having to dwell on her own troubles more than was good for her spirits; and such an occupation allowed Elizabeth to escape the prospect that she might suffer some regret should Mr. Darcy happen not to approve of her conduct this day. Heaven forbid that he should remember the irksome scribbling in a parish register, which to Elizabeth’s way of thinking had seemed so pointless and trifling, and rather childish; yet to Darcy seemed to carry a greater weight.

Though Elizabeth had been very happy to pass some months of retreat in Derbyshire and London with a fine new life and an attentive young husband, she somehow found comfort in the familiar faces of such a small corner of Hertfordshire now congregated together. Mrs. Long sat with her two nieces in their customary place near the front of the church, below the pulpit—this having been accomplished by design so that any eligible young men might have a very good view of the offering.

The Goulding’s of Haye-Park sat to the right of Mrs. Long, and every Lucas from Lucas Lodge with the exception of dear Charlotte sat to Elizabeth’s left, across the aisle—the younger children fidgeting and fussing as was expected from the progeny of such indulgent parents. Elizabeth’s own parents and sisters were comfortably seated before her, and Mr. Bingley, having earned a reputable position in the neighborhood simply by owning the good fortune to draw five-thousand a year in income, sat with his wife Jane in the very same pew as the parish patrons.

Upon entering the church that morning, the three youngest of the Lucas clan had blanched at seeing the redoubtable Mr. Darcy seated so near to their own familiar space. They had not forgotten his warning to inform their father of their mischief, should that gentleman ever happen to catch them eavesdropping on him and their sister’s friend, Elizabeth, ever again. Children were easily persuaded by Fitzwilliam Darcy’s imposing figure and obdurate brow into believing that he was not a man to be gainsaid, but his young wife was not to be deceived by this illustration of his character, for Elizabeth had come to know that Mr. Darcy’s bark was oftentimes worse than his bite.

At this instant Elizabeth was satisfied to be seated in such a crowd with her husband, and to have her arm contentedly shrouded within the crook of his coat sleeve. Elizabeth’s delicate palm rested easily upon the back of Darcy’s sturdy hand, the subtle contact instinctively placating them both, and her shoulder pressed up against his; as any affectionate and careful touch between them lent support to the certainty that as lovers at least they indeed remained in devoted consort.

Last night had not been kind to Elizabeth’s good state of mind for scarcely did she see her husband after supper, nor did she take pleasure in his private company, conversation, and most importantly, his closeness. Elizabeth had spent the remainder of the evening in her chambers at Netherfield, pacing the floor with her feet bare as to not make a restless sound, and then sitting cross-legged on her bed and twisting a lock of her tousled hair impatiently round her finger.

She had no other occupation than to mull over all that she knew for certain, and all that she did not; for Elizabeth was aware that her husband had been prodigiously harsh in his opinion of her character that day. His attitude was the consequence of nonsense and foolishness on behalf of them both, without a doubt—yet she did not truly know why Darcy was so troubled by it all.

It had not been long when she heard Mr. Bingley’s ambling footsteps upon the thinly carpeted gallery floor as he made his way to his chambers. Clearly he had observed the wishes of his wife by having played only one game at billiards with Darcy, and Elizabeth delighted in her sister’s good fortune. Her manner giddy for a woman now married, Elizabeth fully expected her own husband to come along soon. Her heart and her mind fluttered with impatience to have her lover close, but she had to wait some time to make out the sound of his familiar gait upon the floor, and even longer did she wait once he was within their apartments for him to settle into bed.

When Darcy had at last done so, Elizabeth faithfully huddled near to him in an accustomed embrace, resting her head upon his shoulder, happy to at last have him all to herself. His skin beheld the musk of the air to be found out in the night, and the pleasant yet surprising scent gave Elizabeth cause to wonder as to where in particular Mr. Darcy had been all this time.

Instead of slipping his arm beneath his wife to draw her body closer, Darcy did simply loll upon the sheets and stare listlessly up at the canopy. His hands were clasped beneath his head upon the pillow with ease—yet his lips were pursed solemnly together as if he had found fault with the canopy itself.

“It is far too hot for words,” he then complained in a coarse whisper, and turned to place a trifling peck of a kiss on Elizabeth’s angst ridden forehead. He then bid her a rather indolent nightly adieu before rolling away from her on the ticking and drifting into an edgy sleep.

Elizabeth’s astonishment made her grimace at the act, for she had never been a lonely wife, and she had no wish to be one now. For as much as she enjoyed good conversation, Darcy had, after their marriage been willing to oblige her, if only for his wife’s sake; and yet Elizabeth thought that had not been true at all, for an attentive wife knew for certain when a husband had taken pleasure in her company—and there were many times when Darcy had sought out Elizabeth for her good opinion alone.

Elizabeth had wanted more from Darcy that night—a loving word might have been good, even some news of his game would have done wonders, or perchance even the offer of an excuse for having been so cross with her that day. She felt compelled to poke a persuasive finger into the small of his back and insist of her husband that he speak to her a word of logic and thoughtfulness. Elizabeth resisted the temptation, and she pouted rather skillfully; but she kept to her place and fixed her eyes on the silhouette of her sleeping husband, until tedium and his monotonous breathing made her eyelids heavy and she fell asleep.

Darcy’s attitude first thing when he woke the next morning was not much improved, for again he barely said one word to his dearest Elizabeth. She had known him to be a quiet man—never considered chatty at any time of day or night, yet even when he said nothing he was always inclined to smile at his wife first off and award an adoring kiss upon her lips before he clambered out of bed for an appointment. No such kiss had been forthcoming this morning, and whatever troubled Darcy now, he was not about to say easily—nor was he bent on bestowing the blissfully wedded affection toward Elizabeth that her heart had come to know and crave.

Elizabeth refused to suppose that Darcy had been so resentful of her fictitious lover that he would want nothing to do with her. In a way, she could understand the supposed logic as to why Mr. Bingley had come to avoid his wife—but Mr. Darcy had no such bothersome excuse, unless of course, he truly believed that her mysterious husband had indeed been an unfortunate truth.

Now, back in her beloved church, instead of tending to her prayer book, Elizabeth took the occasion to observe Darcy as he sat quietly beside her in the pew. Oddly enough his interest was not bent on prayer either, but rather his handsome dark eyes were staunchly fixed toward the front of the church, directly upon the curate, Mr. Pritchard.

Elizabeth shuddered for the thought of having to present the odious man to her husband after the church service. The curate had never done anything truly coarse to her, yet she did not care for him personally, or the way that Mr. Pritchard seemed to trespass about, much as if he were a phantom bent on haunting the place. Elizabeth could only hope that her father, or Sir William Lucas would make the introduction, as was proper between men of rank and those not as privileged.

At once Darcy felt ill at ease, as if he was aware of an intrusion into his private thoughts and feelings. He quickly looked beside him at Elizabeth, catching her eye as she kept vigil over his surly countenance. Her profound scrutiny toward him was unsettling, and Darcy was heedful to look down at the prayer book perched in his right hand, and away from his meticulous observation of the curate before his ever-inquisitive wife had reason to question his actions.

Most of the neighborhood had not had the occasion to see the new Mrs. Darcy and her estimable husband since their arrival in Hertfordshire some days ago, and so it took the young couple quite some time to make their way out of the church when the morning service had concluded, for the presence of all the good people who approached to pay their respects.

As was customary, the Reverend Goodwin stood by the front doors of the church bidding his parishioners a good day as they departed, and Mr. Pritchard saw fit to be on the spot as well. Darcy gestured for Elizabeth to step out of the church before him, though she still had a comforting hold of his arm, and they both stopped to offer their greeting to the good Reverend at the door.

Mr. Darcy, with an amiable smile upon his face, shook hands with Reverend Goodwin. This was indeed a gesture Fitzwilliam Darcy only performed when he felt particular warmth for the person whom he greeted, yet when he happened to glance to the very person standing beside the Reverend, his smile instantly distorted into an anxious grimace.

“I believe you have come to know our new curate, sir,” Reverend Goodwin offered, “but I will make the introduction a formality—Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Derbyshire, may I present Mr. Enoch Pritchard, currently of Longbourn Parish.”

Elizabeth was astonished that the two men had met, as Darcy had obviously neglected to tell her of such news. She had known that he had seen Reverend Goodwin yesterday when he had gone to the church, although the good Reverend’s admission to her that her husband had called had been the only offer of information made available.

Mr. Pritchard bowed courteously, but Mr. Darcy was of a mind to simply tilt his chin in tacit recognition of the acquaintance. Although not so seemingly uncommon a gesture for the man, Elizabeth did indeed find her husband’s response curious. Notwithstanding the insolence of Mr. Collins upon presenting his own self to Darcy at the Netherfield ball, Elizabeth had only noticed such a doggedly cold salutation by her husband on one other occasion, and that had been some time ago in Meryton, when Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy had been so unfortunate as to stumble upon Mr. George Wickham.

As ill-timed as was her eternal habit, Mrs. Bennet shimmied her way through the crowd and in between her daughter and son-in-law. “We are to breakfast at Longbourn this morning with several families,” she chirruped. “I will expect to see you Reverend Goodwin—and you, Mr. Pritchard.”

“Thank you, Madam,” the loathsome man replied, his curious grin directed toward Mr. Darcy, “but I am otherwise engaged. Perhaps another time.”

Mrs. Bennet sighed for having her invitation rejected so readily by the curate. Her displeasure was brief however, as Mrs. Long and her nieces happened by to occupy the woman’s short span of attention with words of rapture for the good fortune of Mrs. Bennet’s daughters and high praise for their superior husbands.

“Then we will have the pleasure of seeing you, Reverend Goodwin?” Elizabeth inquired.

“Yes, my dear—I am delighted to attend.”

Discomfited by what Elizabeth believed was her mother’s unfortunate manners, Darcy urged her to leave, pressing her gently through the churchyard and toward their vehicle. He had not been of a mind to be trapped in Bingley’s small, stuffy carriage that day; and so Darcy had called to the stables early that morning and had instructed that the top be let down on his own barouche, two of the smart-looking Cleveland Bays harnessed, and the carriage brought round to the house.

It had been a splendid ride to the church, the air crisp and clean, and there had been just enough sunshine to make the world seem new and appealing. Elizabeth had only ridden to Longbourn Church in a carriage once—that being the Sunday after her marriage; a chilly day in winter—the very day that she had left her father’s home for good for the responsibilities of being a wife. She had never had need for a carriage before; since the church was so very near to Longbourn House that she and her family had always walked, no matter what the state of the weather.

Happily, she slipped her gloved hand into Darcy’s, anxious to lead him to her father’s house by the way of the path. Darcy held her hand fast and firm once again, and to Elizabeth’s utter surprise he followed his own authority and conducted his wife in the direction of his equipage.

“I have no need to ride, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth instinctively proclaimed. “It is such a short distance and the exercise will do me good.”

“No,” Darcy replied in short, “You will take the barouche.”

Elizabeth was indeed a headstrong young woman, insisting once again that she was perfectly capable of walking. Mr. Darcy would have none of it, and his temper grew resentful.

“Mrs. Darcy,” he whispered, stopping to draw his young wife close to him for a private word of admonishment. “You are now a married woman—a model of respectability to all. Happily, your girlhood days are past, and you will behave with the politesse that I say is befitting of a woman of your station.”

Elizabeth’s cheeks grew red at hearing her husband’s objections to her behavior once again, for this display was certainly unwarranted. “No one of my acquaintance here would think anything ill of my choosing to walk, sir,” she pronounced in challenge of a husband’s resolve.

Mr. Darcy’s posture on the subject was immovable and the swell of disapproval in his deep, dark eyes yet again made an impression upon such a young wife. “I will not have this neighborhood dishonor you with scandal,” he said plainly. “I will not have it.”

Exasperated and puzzled, Elizabeth had no choice but to dutifully follow her husband’s escort to the carriage. Darcy directed her petite frame toward the barouche, readily handing her up the carriage steps to take a seat. Elizabeth’s skirts billowed as she sat down suddenly upon the leather-clad bench, the color of her cheeks now mottled with the humiliation of her husband’s persuasive set down.

Darcy turned about abruptly to survey the congregated throng once Elizabeth was seated, and his manner slipped back to the very depiction of bespoken refinement. “Mrs. Bennet,” he called, holding out a benevolent hand to his mother-in-law, and Elizabeth’s mother gleefully consented to such a prestigious offering having been bestowed in front of all her envious neighbors.

Darcy then situated Mary and then Kitty beside their mother, and lastly Jane near to Elizabeth. He amiably tipped his hat to the ladies, and Kitty called out, “Are you not to come with us, Mr. Darcy?”

“I shall walk back with your father and brother,” he obliged his sister with a gentlemanly reply, and bellowed out to the driver, “Longbourn house.”

It was such a short distance by coach to Longbourn that Elizabeth did not have time enough to calm her blistering feelings. She was quite furious at having been told by her husband precisely what to do and when to do it that she rather forgot her manners and bolted from the carriage and into the house before her mother had even thought about removing herself from the soft leather of the elegant chaise.

Elizabeth was hurriedly prying the bonnet from atop her curls when Darcy entered the house. He pulled off his gloves and flipped them along with his hat to the awaiting Mrs. Hill. Not to be outdone Elizabeth carelessly tossed the good servant her bonnet, surprising the unsuspecting woman as she watched her beloved Miss Elizabeth glare heatedly at her young man. The mister did not look cheerful either, as he matched the gloomy stare of his wife with unyielding zeal, and so Mrs. Hill thought it best to quit the hallway entirely for a safer haven.

“We must talk, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth was adamant in her demand.

“It is not a good time,” Darcy did retort.

“It is never a good time, lately,” Elizabeth fumed, unaware that others were now in the hallway with them.

Darcy flinched as Mr. Bennet laid a hand upon his shoulder. “That was quite an expeditious stride you accomplished from there to here,” the elder man chuckled. “Your friend Bingley and I could scarcely keep pace with you, son.”

“Mr. Darcy is an excellent walker,” Elizabeth offered sourly.

“Indeed,” her father said, “I would have thought nothing less of him.”

Bingley and Jane, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Mary and Kitty, and finally the Reverend Goodwin filed past the two lovers in the hallway on their way to the breakfast table, yet Elizabeth and Darcy would never have noticed the commotion. Darcy’s fix upon his wife was commanding, though it could not be said that it was unkind in nature. Such complete concentration on her husband’s part had always made Elizabeth uneasy, however this time something astonishing did happen to ease her mind.

“I apologize,” he whispered.

Elizabeth barely knew what to say; so confused she was as exactly to what Mr. Darcy chose to offer such amends, for in the last four and twenty hours there had been many such occasions to warrant such a courteous surrender. At times such as these, indeed Elizabeth was certain that it was best to remain silent, but it was not in her nature to let Darcy’s failings happen to slip by without mention.

“My pride is hurt, sir,” she did offer a truthful response. “Am I such a terrible wife as to cause you mortification?”

“Terrible?” he shook his head. “Hardly.”

“Then tell me what I do to offend—and I shall not be tempted to do it ever again.”

“I will never see you hurt by anyone,” Darcy sighed in a miserable display of such shifting emotion as to frighten Elizabeth into believing that some wicked spirit had consumed the man she had come to love. He had not heard her plea; he simply heard his own conscience. “I should not even wish to see you hurt by my own resentful temper.”

“I am so bewildered, Fitzwilliam,” she sighed. “Your happiness is everything to me, and I know for certain that you are miserable—yet you will not trust me with the details of that misery.”

At once Darcy’s eyes shied away from his fix on Elizabeth. “I want to say, Elizabeth,” he spoke gravely, ‘I want to tell you, yet…”

“Mr. Darcy!” Sir William Lucas exclaimed upon entering Longbourn House. Darcy spun around, his hand reaching behind him to grip Elizabeth’s, and he bowed respectfully.

“It is a pleasure to have you in the neighborhood, sir. Your acquaintance is not to be shirked; yet you have not called! Surely you are to come to Lucas Lodge two days hence?”

“Two days?” Darcy questioned in astonishment.

“Oh, yes—yes!” Sir William artlessly chuckled, “for we have been told that the neighborhood will have the pleasure of hearing you and Miss Mary play a duet.”

Darcy groaned something indecipherable. It was unimaginable to the pitiable gentleman that his very existence could suffer more, and Sir William Lucas’ ridiculous utterances had never been sweet music to Mr. Darcy’s ears.

Sir William and Lady Lucas however could not have been more pleased. “What an event this is to be,” Sir William grinned broadly. “We had not known you to possess such talent, sir—talent that is oftentimes dismissed as trifling these days by such men of means. Such ability I hope will be repeated often in our humble neighborhood—for not a soul in Hertfordshire would fail to witness a performance as this—I am quite certain!”

Sir William and his wife did not await a reply. In their eyes Mr. Darcy’s talent was a given, and so was the fact that a complimentary meal most certainly awaited them in the dining room. Elizabeth did scarcely draw a breath for witnessing the growing antipathy on her husband’s usually handsome features; and he still had a precarious grip upon her hand. Darcy was forced to exhale in thunderstruck consequence, and he led his wife toward the dining room.

Conversation in the room between friends and neighbors was easy, excepting for any opinions expressed by Mr. Darcy who still considered himself an outsider to Meryton politics and gossip; and very little was spoken by Elizabeth whose feelings grew ever anxious for the touchy behavior of her husband. The subject of Longbourn’s new curate happened to enter the banter at the table, and Mr. Darcy’s eyebrows drew together in as much of a fit of temper as could ever be displayed by the gentleman in the company of strangers.

“What exactly do you know of this man?” Darcy questioned distinctly, and the conversation stilled.

“Know of him, Darcy?” Bingley offered his own query. “He is a man of the church.”

“So it might appear,” Darcy offered, “Yet where did he come from, and was any correspondence sent to his previous employer in pursuit of a commendation?”

“He came with several letters of recommendation carried by his own hand, son,” Mr. Bennet acknowledged.

Darcy was incredulous of his father-in-law’s ignorance. “That is quite opportune, is it not, sir? Mr. Bennet, I am astonished that you would fill such an obligation without properly scrutinizing the candidate; nor should you, Reverend—and I am wholly amazed at the lack of judgment of the bishop.”

Once again Elizabeth could not move her eyes from the study of her husband. His jaw was set as firmly as she had ever seen as he awaited a sensible reply to his questions from anyone in the room. She could not imagine what had provoked such an apparent objection on Darcy’s part to her father’s choice of Mr. Pritchard as a curate—yet her husband did seem to dislike the man, even more than did she.

This was hardly business suitable for breakfast, or talk appropriate in the presence of ladies, but Darcy was resolved on receiving an answer. Elizabeth had thought that Darcy’s days of hasty judgment had been behind them, but today he sat before her family and friends demanding accountability on a subject that could barely be considered any of his concern.

“I know your mind, Darcy,” Mr. Bingley finally broke the silent wonder in the room. “What has occasioned such suspicion?”

Darcy sat back in his chair, the question impelling the corners of his lips into a frown as he shied away from giving a straightforward answer. Darcy quickly looked beside him at Elizabeth, and her virtue in the matter prevented him from revealing what he did know.

“I think it only wise to have sent a letter,” Darcy replied in a calmer demeanor. “It might even be done now.”

As the young man accomplished his words, Mrs. Hill interrupted breakfast to bring a message to Mr. Bennet. “It would seem, Darcy,” Elizabeth’s father said, wiping the edges of his mouth with the corner of the tablecloth, “that a rider from Netherfield with a missive now awaits you—out on the drive.”

Darcy hastened to his feet and begged the pardon of his host. No one in the room happened to take the advice of Elizabeth’s husband all that seriously, and they continued to eat their meal and hastily change the subject of conversation once Darcy had quit the house.

Elizabeth wished for an excuse to leave the table, her curiosity overtaking her sense. Without much innovation she held her handkerchief to her mouth and began to cough as annoyingly as she had ever witnessed on any occasion from her sister Kitty.

“Lizzy, are you all right?” Jane fretted.

Elizabeth nodded her head, the handkerchief still before her face. “A little air is all I need,” she choked out the words. “Pray, excuse me, Papa.”

Elizabeth bounded down the front steps of the house, out onto the drive, hastily tucking her handkerchief within the bodice of her frock. Darcy stood reading his letter, while a boy from Netherfield waited in prospect of a reply.

“Is it very important, husband?” Elizabeth rallied the spirit to ask.

Before she was to see his face, Darcy folded the note, tucked it inside his coat, and told the boy to wait by the green, tossing him a coin. Elizabeth’s hand reached out before her and she gave her husband’s sleeve a slight tug.

Darcy turned about, his fetching face colored crimson, and with little moderation whatsoever he uttered, “I must go.”

“Go? Back to Netherfield?” Elizabeth questioned, alarmed by the mere sight of him. “Has something happened, Fitzwilliam?”

“No,” he took in a breath, “nothing bad, but I must leave for London directly, Elizabeth.”

Indeed, this was very dire, and Elizabeth mistakenly concluded, “Then I will tell my family goodbye at once, and return to Mr. Bingley’s house to pack our things.”

“No,” Darcy’s voice was firm and final, “I am to go alone.” With a different turn of expression he bent down and placed a tender kiss on Elizabeth’s sweet lips. “Be the excellent wife that I know you are, Elizabeth, and tell your family farewell on my behalf. Your father and Bingley will look after you until I can return in a day or so.”

Elizabeth tried to voice a reply; but Darcy made haste toward the boy’s horse, clambered atop the animal, unassisted, and afterward pulled the lad up to sit behind him—and the horse and its two riders quickly disappeared down the road for Netherfield.

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