The Oak and the Ash

Chapter 8

Elizabeth chose to remain the night at Longbourn. She had seen her sister and brother-in-law into their carriage after supper, and with the greatest affection for a beloved pair, she waved adieu as they left the grounds for Netherfield.

Every word spoken to entreat Elizabeth to return home with the couple had been rejected—as kindly as the sentiments had been offered. Jane’s applications were indeed heartfelt, and dear, amiable Mr. Bingley was as good and kind a brother as could be desired; but Elizabeth understood that she was not his concern, as he already was in possession of one wife to please.

To her own disappointment, Elizabeth’s spirits that evening were indeed low, and she had no wish to return to the apartments at Netherfield without Darcy. On the few occasions that her husband had gone away from Pemberley without her, Elizabeth had found herself surprisingly uncomfortable in the likes of an expansive residence, and so she was determined to again be in the home of her parents, and in the room that she had once called her own.

“Good night, Papa,” she smiled for her father as he gave her a peck of a kiss on her cheek.

“Do have a pleasant sleep my dear.”

Sullenly Elizabeth turned to leave Mr. Bennet’s study. She did not skip nor turn lively upon her heel as her father had always known her to do as a girl.

“Elizabeth,” Mr. Bennet beckoned to his daughter; and she looked back in curiosity at hearing her father call her by her proper name. “He is a good fellow, your Mr. Darcy. I am certain that you fret a great deal for nothing, my dear, as he will come back for you soon enough. ”

Mr. Bennet accomplished something noble in being the reason for Elizabeth’s sincere smile. She thought her father so very dear for defending Darcy, particularly since she was convinced that neither man truly understood one another. The only thing that Mr. Bennet and Mr. Darcy truly had in common was their love for Elizabeth; and she was enough of a reason for each gentleman to put their trust in the other.

“I do hope he returns soon,” she whispered.

“I believe you like being a wife, my dear.”

Elizabeth laughed; and in spite of her current situation, told the truth. “Though I never would have imagined it, the occupation suits me exceedingly well.”

Elizabeth plodded up the staircase to the second floor and wandered down the hallway past her sister Mary’s room. The door was open and Elizabeth peered inside.

“Good night, Mary,” she bid her sister, as she had done most of her life.

“Good night, Lizzy,” Mary returned the pleasantry, never bothering to look up from practicing the pianoforte on imaginary keys atop a nightstand.

Mrs. Bennet lolled upon the chaise in her chambers, clad in her nightgown and nightcap. “Rest well, Mama,” Elizabeth sighed.

“I shall do no such thing, Lizzy,” Mrs. Bennet pronounced. “This stifling weather prevents any such relief.”

The modest little bedchamber where Elizabeth had spent her childhood had not changed at all since she had left it the past December. The small hearth and leaded window were as they had always been and the simple furniture remained; a bed with its lumpy ticking and plain bedclothes stood in the center, and the painted pine vanity with the flawed and wavy glass was against the East wall. A rather clunky blanket chest had always been at the foot of the bed, and a plain Queen Anne chair rested in the corner, near to the sill of the inconsequential window.

There was a small round table beside the chair, a single candle in a simple coin-plated chamberstick situated upon the table, and a book. It was the very book that Elizabeth had spirited away from her father’s study some months ago on the day that Mr. Bingley had asked for Jane’s hand in marriage; the day that Mr. Darcy had fled to Town.

Elizabeth had hoped having her family near this night would ease her melancholy, but at present she was thankful to secure the door to the chamber and be left alone to sit at the vanity. She rubbed her hands on her face, not attempting to hide a tear or two of hopelessness brought on by the frustration of all she did not understand. When she moved her fingers away from her eyes, she sniffled, and took a hard look about the room.

She had taken no notice of the modest space on the day of her wedding for she had more important things on her mind. Elizabeth had been in a state of nervousness that morning, wishing more than anything to make haste to the church, if just to be certain her lover was waiting. She had been so determined on becoming Darcy’s wife that she had neglected to grasp the fact that it would be the very last time that she would occupy the little bedchamber at Longbourn.

In six short months gone by Elizabeth had not thought about her old room—not even once. She had not remembered it to be so small; for she had become familiar with chambers superior in consequence to any grand English house. It hadn’t taken long to grow accustomed to sitting before a mantelpiece carved of fine, pearl marble, instead of the humble dovetailed fittings of painted hardwood.

Elizabeth was now acquainted with the majestic grounds of Derbyshire, the present layout of which had been commissioned by her husband’s grandfather; done proper by a principal of landscape. A rendering had been captured by a master of the arts, framed nearly as large as life, and hung on the bedchamber wall above the mantle at Pemberley. It was a far cry in superiority to the small framed silhouette of her own likeness, taken when she was but fifteen, which hung on the wall of little bedchamber. She glanced at the shadowy picture of her youth, and she had cause to smile for the remembrance of the occasion of its making.

A family friend had made the silhouette on evening at Longbourn; a clever young man, to be precise. Everyone had thought the boy to have been besotted with Jane, for her beauty always took young men by storm. Jane was inexperienced then in the ways of the world, as was Elizabeth; and Mr. Bennet was not of a mind to think of any possible connection at that time between any one of his eldest daughters and an eligible young man, no matter how much Mrs. Bennet happened to plead.

Elizabeth had always wondered whether the boy had taken a liking to her instead of Jane. She realized now that he had flirted with her on each and every meeting. It was the first time that she could remember liking a young man enough to be anxious about her appearance; that perhaps she was far too clumsy when she walked, that her figure was not yet shapely enough to please, or that her countenance was not sufficiently charming.

Such naivete had diminished with womanhood, albeit Elizabeth remembered her feelings of insecurity when she had first been thrust into the society of Mr. Darcy. Not only had she found discomfort in her dislike of his manners and improper pride, but quite secretly she had felt herself inadequate for the taste and attitude of such an experienced man.

She had not in fact had quite the same feelings in the presence of Caroline Bingley or Lady Catherine de Bourgh, or even Colonel Fitzwilliam; but when in the company of Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth had possessed self-doubt, and those misgivings had left her skeptical as to whether a girl from the country could ever fit into a fine man’s world.

Such recollections were not worth the time of a blissfully married young woman; and truly Elizabeth did not lament them a jot, yet the little silhouette hanging on the starkness of the painted wall made her think of things she had not had to ponder in some time. It made her wonder for the preservation of her future happiness, for perhaps henceforth she would have to live her life with a dissatisfied husband.

Elizabeth opened the window in the small room and pulled back the coverlet on the bed when fatigue finally overcame her mind and body. Mary had kindly offered her a nightgown fashioned of plain, white cotton; and without aid, Elizabeth shimmied out of her frock, her petticoats and chemise, and wriggled into the pleasing fabric of the gown.

At last she could rest her body upon the agreeable ticking, though there was barely a breeze at all in the room for complete comfort. She left the candle in the chamberstick burning beside the bed, to idly watch the flame and the patterns that the flickering light made on the walls.

Elizabeth thought of no one but her husband. She recollected nothing but the joy of being Darcy’s wife. She conjured his image in her mind and thought of the curve of his chin as he lay beside her on his pillow. She could almost hear the tender tone of his voice as he had been apt to whisper words of contentment and affection. She could feel the coarseness of his beard grazing her cheeks and his succinct breathing tickling her skin with every kiss he chose to place on her lips.

The ache of yearning was interrupted by a pesky moth that fluttered through the open window and persisted in a dance, to and fro, back and forth, near to the light of the candle. Elizabeth was annoyed by its interference and persistence, and she was halfway tempted to make use of the book laying on the table next to the candle, and wallop at the pest until it was gone from her sight.

Elizabeth could not bring herself to do injury to a pitiful creature; so she crawled out of bed and cupped her hands together to catch the moth within her palms. Its wings flitted against her hands, tickling her skin in desperation for escape. With a purse of her lips and a puff of her reddened cheeks she blew out the flame of the candle so the poor creature would not be tempted to come back into the little room. Elizabeth tiptoed to the window and let the moth fly free into the warmth of the summer night.

By the time evening had once again made its way to Hertfordshire, Elizabeth had given up hope of Darcy returning to her for yet another night. She was not keen to attend an engagement at Lucas Lodge without her husband, and her disappointment showed on every feature of her face in the rippled old looking glass of the vanity as Sarah fussed with Elizabeth’s hair.

Although Darcy had left the carriage at Longbourn for Elizabeth, she was inclined to ride in Charles Bingley’s carriage to Lucas Lodge. Elizabeth had no one to impress in Hertfordshire, for all who lived there already considered her the most fortunate creature on earth. With a handsome man, a superior home in the country and in town, a fine chaise and four, ten thousand a year in income, and perhaps much more, what girl would not consider herself lucky? Yet, to Elizabeth, it was all worth but a brass farthing without her husband’s faith in her as a wife.

Elizabeth’s sister and brother had come to Longbourn to fetch her, and both Jane and Charles were quite ready for some companionship, and for a little neighborly society. No one was as impatient for a gathering as much as Miss Mary Bennet, however. She had grown fond of any excuse to exhibit her talent at the pianoforte and although she was greatly disappointed not to see Mr. Darcy in the party to play the duet that he had promised they would play together, she would have to make do, solo.

Lady Lucas rushed to Elizabeth upon arrival with news so vital that it could not wait. She clasped Elizabeth’s hands within her own and announced that word had come down to Lucas Lodge in the form of an express that Charlotte had safely been delivered of a daughter the very night before. Such news lifted Elizabeth’s spirits, for it was a fine thing to know that her friend was well and must indeed be happy for such a gift as a baby to fill her days at Hunsford parsonage with joy.

Elizabeth could only deduce with what eloquence Mr. Collins had written his letter of elation on becoming a father—although she imagined that such a letter would have been far more articulate had the child been a son, and therefore, a lawful heir to her own father’s estate of Longbourn. But it was not long before the letter was produced round the room, and Elizabeth’s powers of imagination as to Mr. Collins’ turn of expression proved spot on.

As always supper was indeed very good, and Elizabeth had been far hungrier than she had thought. Cold beef, and salad, and summer fruits served a fine meal for such a warm night, and admittedly Elizabeth was satisfied and she could smile for the moment.

The prospect of entertainment after supper was quite familiar to Elizabeth. She sat on a chair looking out into an open drawing room, her fingers gripping the handle of a soothing cup of tea.

The rug had been cleared away from the floor on the chance that anyone felt like dancing, and a game table had been set at the edge of the room, and Mr. Bennet, Mrs. Long, and the Gouldings took part in a game of whist. Mary played a muted, sad tune on the pianoforte, something so gloomy that it nearly brought tears to one’s eyes, and Mrs. Bennet twittered on to the Reverend Goodwin as to how well her daughter performed on the instrument. Maria Lucas looked overcome to be in such grand company, and Kitty’s nimble fingers searched through endless pages of sheet music in the hope of finding a livelier ditty for Mary to play.

Mrs. Long’s two nieces occupied the attentions of a young man recently arrived in the neighborhood as the apprentice of Mr. Crane and his accounting house. Jane conversed with Lady Lucas, no doubt about the early arrival of the baby and the Lucas’s journey on the morrow for Hunsford. Mr. Bingley stood behind his wife, a glass of Madeira in his hand and an affable smile upon his face.

Sir William Lucas paced the floor, looking to make certain that everyone present was merrily situated, and every now and then he called out an indulgent reproof to one of his younger children to stop sliding about on the bare, slick floor, though the children never appeared to heed one word that he ever happened to utter.

“Mrs. Darcy,” an unexpected voice crooned behind Elizabeth, and she turned about only to be startled by the emergence of the curate, Mr. Pritchard, from the shadows of the main hallway.


“I am only just arrived to see that you are here alone,” the man observed aloud as his hands rubbed together in the fashion of a mantis; those garden creatures which had long ago been transported from China. He glanced about the room, vigilantly searching for a face, and then inquired in a low, fretful tone, “Is your husband gone to fetch a glass of spirits or perhaps gone out to partake of a smoke?”

“No,” Elizabeth laughed; it was obvious the curate did not know much of Mr. Darcy, “My husband has left Hertfordshire on business and has not returned.”

“Urgent business?” the man arched his brow in a curious and seemingly eager query, “that is, it must be, to take him away in this heat—all those many long and dusty miles, and away from such a lovely woman as you.”

Elizabeth felt herself shiver at the level resonance of the curate’s voice and what seemed to be a scheming compliment. “I have no doubt, sir,” she replied, in as disaffected a tone as she was able to muster.

Mr. Pritchard took up the seat beside Elizabeth, quite uninvited, and Elizabeth did her best to look interested in the game of tag that the small children were playing on the slippery floor, and as disinterested in Mr. Pritchard as she could without seeming overtly rude.

The youngest Lucas girl left her siblings and sidled up to Elizabeth, grasping her hand. “Come and play with us, Miss Elizabeth,” the child cajoled with a giggle.

Elizabeth blushed, for she was in no mood to whirl about the floor, however tempted she was to remove herself from the presence of Mr. Pritchard.

“I cannot, Constance,” Elizabeth explained to the girl, remembering the fitting decorum that Darcy had requested of her before his leaving, “and I am no longer Miss Elizabeth, but now Mrs. Darcy, dearest.”

“Oh!” the little girl exclaimed, dropping Elizabeth’s hand and raising her own tiny palm to her lips, “I forgot!” She quickly looked to Mr. Pritchard and asked in all innocence, “Will I be forgiven, Parson?”

The curate chuckled, quite forgetting himself; ‘Of course, dear” he snorted, “No one will think ill of you for forgetting that your friend is now married. You have not seen much of Mr. Darcy, I imagine; and who could have known that the gentleman would not be present this night, but that he would be gone to Kympton?”

Elizabeth gasped, her eyes wide at the presumption that Mr. Pritchard had let slip. Then her eyelashes batted and narrowed in shrewd consideration that perhaps this man was involved some way in Darcy’s sudden departure. He had asked once before about Kympton, and Elizabeth could not understand his interest in the parish.

“I did not say precisely where Mr. Darcy went, sir—though you seem to believe it Kympton. You take a great interest in my husband’s affairs, Mr. Pritchard. I wonder why that is, since you have only known Mr. Darcy for a mere two days.”

“Oh, yes—that is true,” the man stuttered, searching his mind for a plausible reply, “we have only just been introduced, but having lived in the North Country myself, nearer to that very village of Kympton, I have come to hear of your husband having advowson of a very valuable living. I was only making conversation, ma’am—just idle conversation.”

Elizabeth continued her occupation of making the man uncomfortable by eyeing him intently. Their host interrupted Elizabeth’s glare.

“Will you play and sing for us, Mrs. Darcy?” Sir William did offer his plea. “You have been missed in the neighborhood.”

“I beg you, no, Sir William,” Elizabeth was truly modest. She caught sight of her sister Mary, who had overheard the conversation and appeared eager to perform, with or without Darcy and his violin. “Perhaps you could entreat some of the single young ladies.”

“In good time,” he did retort. “Pray, my dear, sing us a song.”

Elizabeth blushed and dipped her chin in consent. She was, however, grateful for the excuse to be removed from Mr. Pritchard’s company, and she stood up and made her way to the pianoforte.

Elizabeth sat down before the instrument and Mary quickly handed her a sheet of music. The piece was too cheerful and trite to match Elizabeth’s spirit and she fanned out the stack of music lying atop the pianoforte and a particular piece caught her eye. Her nimble fingers pulled the sheet from its resting place and Elizabeth set it against the stand.

She took in a breath to calm herself; for she had not performed in some time. Her musical talents had been reserved for the sole pleasure of her husband in the last few months, and it felt awkward to Elizabeth that he should not be present whilst she played. Sir William did offer more words of encouragement and Elizabeth’s fingers moved over the keys and she softly cleared her throat and began to play and sing.

Deep the silence 'round us spreading

all through the night.

Dark the path that we are treading

all through the night.

Still the coming day discerning

by the hope within us burning.

To the dawn our footsteps turning

all through the night.

Such poignant melody and lyrics immediately caught the notice of everyone in the room. All eyes were on Elizabeth; that of her dear parents, her sisters and Mr. Bingley, the amiable hosts and their guests, the dear Reverend Goodwin, and the conniving eyes of the curate.

Unbeknownst to anyone, Darcy had let himself into the hallway of Lucas Lodge through the front doors, left open on such a warm summer night for ventilation. He had been about to call out a greeting to the host when a familiar melody drew him toward the parlor. He stole a glance around the corner of the room to see an audience sitting before his wife, and Elizabeth continued to sing.

Star of faith the dark adorning

all through the night.

Leads us fearless t'wards the morning

all through the night.

Though our hearts be wrapt in sorrow,

from the hope of dawn we borrow

promise of a glad tomorrow

all through the night.

Elizabeth’s song transfixed Darcy, heart and soul; the tune hung above the stifling air in the room and Darcy recognized it as an old lullaby. For as long as Elizabeth’s fingers played upon the keys and her voice sang forth words to soothe his temper, Darcy remained.

Elizabeth’s song was done and she closed the lid to the pianoforte keys. Darcy’s attention jerked to a more identifiable consciousness, and his notice fell upon the curate. The man’s eyes kept a repugnant vigil upon Darcy’s young wife, and feelings of wrath crept back into Darcy’s head. Darcy backed away from the parlor doorway and his body pressed against a wall as he took a deep breath.

Young Constance Lucas gasped to see the shadowy figure of a man in the doorway and while everyone else professed their appreciation to Elizabeth of her talent, the little girl ran into the hallway to see a tall figure, coattails flying, hastily quitting Lucas Lodge.

“Mr. Darcy ran away,” she uttered coming back into the parlor, approaching Elizabeth and tugging on her skirts; and Elizabeth bent down to hear what the girl was saying.

Elizabeth shook her head. “He has not run away, dearest. Mr. Darcy will be returning to Hertfordshire, in a day or so.”

Constance squirmed with excitable persistence, and her little finger waggled toward the doorway. “No, silly—he was here!”

With a flush of color to her cheeks Elizabeth looked toward the opened door, though no one occupied the hallway, and when she hurried out onto the front steps of Lucas Lodge, little Constance in tow, Elizabeth saw nothing but the dusky sky, and heard nothing but the chirp of crickets.

Once back inside his humble house Mr. Bennet shed his dress coat, donned a comfortable pair of slippers, and crept away to his study for a few moments of peace and a nightcap, laying the foundation as it was, for a restful night’s sleep. Mrs. Bennet saw no reason to calm herself quite yet nor retire to her bedchamber, for she and her daughters merrily opined on the merits and hazards of the evening to one another, all under the ruse that it was for the benefit of the curious servant Mrs. Hill attending to their needs, that they did so.

The only person unwilling to join the tittering of the ladies was Elizabeth. She had determined that a bothersome headache had come on; settling between her furrowed brows, somewhere amid the memory of Mr. Collins’ letter of joy and the evening’s final hand of whist.

“Lizzy, your song was very good,” Kitty flattered her sister, for Elizabeth’s silence was not to be borne.

Mary cast her eye in the direction of her two sisters. “Indeed,” she commented dourly, perhaps her manner stemming from a twinge of envy, “you were quite engaging on the pianoforte, Lizzy, nevertheless had my brother-in-law not been inclined to go to Town so suddenly, our recital would have been equally as superior.”

Elizabeth managed an artless smile. “I have no doubt that it would have been charming,” she confirmed.

“My hopes of success remain confounded,” Mary, muttered; unwilling to let the point rest, “and after I had practiced so very much—mostly to please Mr. Darcy.”

Elizabeth grimaced. “Good night to you both,” she sighed. “Good night, Mama.”

“You are not to go up to bed so soon, Lizzy,” Mrs. Bennet wailed in protest, not having finished her say on the activities of the evening.

“I am,” Elizabeth rubbed at the delicate temples of her forehead with the tips of her fingers, and while yawning, replied, “I find conversing at supper parties to be a tedious occupation.”

Mrs. Bennet sat herself down hard on the sofa and folded her arms across herself in bother.

“It is clear that you have spent far too much time with Mr. Darcy,” she conjectured, as only such a woman was capable of doing. “You were never lacking in society, Lizzy, as you are now. You begin to show signs of your husband’s manners, something which I find most vexing.”

Elizabeth snorted at her mother’s assessment of her character. “I could never spend too much time in Mr. Darcy’s company,” she replied in honesty.

Mrs. Bennet harrumphed at such a statement. Her own experiences in the company of a husband told her that most women likely felt the opposite; and a night out with friends was to be preferred.

Elizabeth bent down to kiss her mother on the cheek and then made for the staircase. Unlike the night before, Elizabeth was keen to see the interior of her little bedchamber. She wanted to sleep—sleep the whole night through from beginning to end with barely a dream or a worry to enter her mind; though it would not be likely as long as her husband slept elsewhere.

If only Darcy had come back that day, or even come to Lucas Lodge that night to claim her and take her back to Netherfield, Elizabeth would have been a happy woman. She would have felt secure with Darcy near, even if she did not recognize precisely why she felt uneasy and somewhat upset by the peculiarity of her husband’s recent conduct—yet she could easily have slept the whole night through, comforted in his arms.

Elizabeth had barely wriggled into the cotton nightgown and unpinned her hair to give it a brushing when there was a knock on the bedchamber door. In the vanity looking glass she caught herself inhale in the hope that Darcy had finally come for her, yet when she threw open the door, there stood Kitty.

“Sorry to be a nuisance, Lizzy,” the girl spoke with purpose, “but when you had gone from the house I had thought that you would not be back and so I put some of my hair ribbons in the vanity drawer.”

Elizabeth opened the door wider to allow her sister access to the vanity. “Would you never have thought that I would be coming back for a visit, Kitty?”

“Back here?” Kitty inhaled a vulgar snort of doubt. “In this small room? La! What a joke; Papa and Mama—and Mr. Darcy so snug beneath one very humble roof! I had not even considered it possible, Lizzy!”

“Oh, Kitty,” Elizabeth groaned, puffing out her cheeks at the absurdity of it all.

Kitty spun about on her heels triumphantly, the intended hair ribbons dangling from her outstretched fingers. “I shall not trouble you again,” she spoke as she skipped from the room.

Elizabeth attempted to close the door behind her, yet before it was secure someone gave it a little push. Elizabeth was about to appeal to Kitty to wait until morning to procure any other treasured objects she might have concealed in Elizabeth’s old room, when Mrs. Bennet appeared from the hallway.

“Lizzy, I was thinking,” her mother proffered, “that your father invite our friends to supper and cards Saturday next. You do believe that Mr. Darcy will be returned by then—for I would not wish to be seen in the neighborhood without him again.”

“I cannot say, Mama,” Elizabeth grew exasperated.

“You cannot say?” her mother was incredulous. “Has he not sent you a message? Dear me, how should it look to the neighborhood if you are to be returned to us?”

“Mama!” Elizabeth cried out. “Mr. Darcy shall not be gone long, and I have not been returned to anyone!”

“Well,” Mrs. Bennet turned up her nose, “he went away, and you are here.”

Elizabeth had nothing further to say. She wrapped her arms about herself and shuddered as if a sudden chill had run through her body, certainly an oddity for such a warm evening. Mrs. Bennet pondered for a moment, though she offered no comfort to her daughter.

“Saturday it will be then,” she fixed the date; and as hastily as she had come, she disappeared back down the hallway.

Elizabeth shut the door with a resounding thud; the palm of her hand pressing hard against it to be certain that it was secure. As weary as Elizabeth had felt upon returning to Longbourn that night, she now found herself wide awake. She plunked down at the vanity, staring wide-eyed at her image in the glass, and she took up her hairbrush and continued to untangle her loosened curls.

She realized not a thing in the last six months had changed—not a thing at all. If Elizabeth had not been completely awake she could have thought her life with her husband the last few months to have been but a dream; and that she would awaken upon the morrow to find that Jane and Mr. Bingley were happily married, that Darcy had never come back to Hertfordshire to renew his addresses, and that Elizabeth had only scribbled his name beside hers on a blank page in the parish register.

After some time the hubbub within Longbourn quieted. Elizabeth’s mother and sisters had happily retired to their beds, and the servants tended to their last chores of the night and would settle in their chambers. Mr. Bennet would soon be climbing the stairs, and Elizabeth could almost hear the leather soles of his slippers shuffling against the floorboards, and picture the waxjack he used as a candle to light his path, much as it happened each and every night for the last one and twenty years.

Elizabeth threw open the sash of the little window, and she put out the candles to deter the pesky moths from entering the room. Merely the one little candle on the nightstand beside the bed provided light.

She took up a cloth from the little washbasin, wet it, and gave her face and neck a cooling swab. She stood very still before the open window, dressed in the crisp, cotton nightgown; deeply breathing in the night air and searching for any possibility of a breeze.

The candlelight behind her illuminated Elizabeth’s pretty figure through the sheer fabric of the gown. She tousled her hair with her hands and let it fall loosely across her back having brushed it free from all constraint. The skin of her face did look pale; ethereal in the dimness of the room. Indeed, by her soft reflection barely visible in the windowpane, it was obvious that Elizabeth was no longer an innocent girl living in a father’s house, but a woman.

Elizabeth thought back on the evening; and she thought of her dear friend Charlotte Lucas. It seemed like ages since they had spent time together, for she had not seen Charlotte since Elizabeth’s wedding day, and now Charlotte was a mother.

No doubt Charlotte was enraptured with the infant she had yesterday delivered, for she would have considered bearing children her duty, and what mother didn’t love her newborn babe. Elizabeth remained convinced that her friend had made a blunder in marrying a man she perhaps did not love. Certainly it was a mistake to live her married life without possessing a certain passion for her husband. A loveless, unromantic marriage would not have been acceptable to Elizabeth, duty or not. Darcy was indeed Elizabeth’s temptation; he was her desire; and she was glad for it.

Soon enough Darcy would come back to her; he would confide in Elizabeth his troubles and she would listen to his every word. Elizabeth would give him the comfort that was hers to bestow; and together they would come to an understanding. Darcy would again adore her as keenly as he had when they had first fallen in love. So Elizabeth told herself.

“Well, son,” Mr. Bennet spoke, “by the looks of you, I would say your business was unsuccessful.”

Darcy sighed, sitting in a chair in Mr. Bennet’s study. He reached for the glass of port that his father-in-law handed his way, and took a sip.

“When I married, I had no parents living, nor a brother to whom I could confess my troubles. Perhaps I can offer you words of advice if you were to tell me what troubles you?”

“A confession would only give you disappointment,” Darcy guaranteed.

“In that you have been the cause of my daughter’s angst and worry the last two days—yes, I have to say that I am disappointed.”

Darcy was taken aback, for he had thought his pronouncement of himself to be rhetorical. He flinched, and shrugged with a grimace; yet nodded to accede the point.

“But I cannot blame you for the motive, for I believe you have the best of intentions and the desire to protect Elizabeth—as it should be for a young husband.”

Darcy’s brows furrowed and he looked hard at Mr. Bennet. “Thank you,” he managed to say; then confessed in plain truthfulness, “I love your daughter—more so, I find, than I have loved anyone.”

Mr. Bennet smiled; “And she loves you.” Darcy smiled broadly for the first time in days, and Mr. Bennet was glad to be a witness. “I am for bed. Come now, Darcy; I will take you to your wife.”

As Elizabeth had predicted, she heard the footsteps of her father in the hallway, and since she had already bid him a good night, she expected him to go straight away to his chambers. A tap on her bedchamber door startled Elizabeth and she quickly looked about the room for a shawl to cover the thin nightgown. She could not find a ready cover anywhere; and not wanting to keep her dear father waiting, she veiled herself behind the door, opening it to barely a crack.

A light from a distant candle streamed through the crevice between door and frame and Elizabeth adjusted her eyes to make out the caller. With a gasp she threw open the door, for Darcy had finally returned.

“It is you, my husband!” she cried overwhelmed tidings.

Darcy grinned at the paradox of her cry and he replied playfully, “Were you expecting another?”

Elizabeth laughed and tugged on the sleeve of his coat; saying, “Come in.”

“Your father showed me the way up,” Darcy, ever the picture of civility made clear and he took a moment to glance about the room. He had never been in Elizabeth’s little room.

“I will change my clothes at once so we can return to Netherfield,” Elizabeth spoke hastily, for the little room would certainly not be the sort of place that Darcy would consider suitable.

“No, my love,” Darcy replied; a hint of awkward color to his face, for it did seem strange that he should be alone with Elizabeth in Mr. Bennet’s house. “It is very late—you should remain here. It is only—it is just that I could not sleep without seeing you.”

“I will not sleep without you,” she insisted; with a bruised sort of tone.

The expression that emerged on Darcy’s face was far too complex for Elizabeth to make out clearly. Elizabeth dropped the shawl to the floor and found her way into her husband’s arms in an instant; a perfervid encounter to which Darcy gave no protest, and then returned with a great deal of enthusiasm.

Although sleep was the thing they both had wanted; it eluded the lovers. Neither cared where they were, as long as they were together; and when they had gratified their ache for one another, body and soul, they rested in a contented embrace in the small bed, a chance to talk agreeable to both.

“You cut your hair,” Elizabeth began with a subject not quite as precarious as some.

Darcy ran his fingers through his disheveled hair, having forgotten that it was shorter. “I did,” he replied in a whisper; and a smile. “Do you like it?”

“I do.”

“It was quite hot in London, as you know, and I felt it my duty to set precedence for summer fashion—shorter hair, shorter side-whiskers,” he pointed to his cheek.

Elizabeth laughed for her mistake, though she would like to have forgotten. “The house in Town,” she asked, “the people there—are they well?”

Darcy had prepared himself for the questions of his wife. He pulled Elizabeth closer and divulged, “I did not stay at our house, but at the house of my uncle. I required the assistance of Colonel Fitzwilliam and his brother.”

Oh,” she whispered, not knowing what to make of the information. After a moment she said, “I hope they were of help.”

“They tried their best.”

“And did you go out?”

Darcy seemed to fidget, discomfited. He sat upright, and looked down at his wife, still in repose; “I stayed in the whole of the night. Elizabeth, do you trust in me?”

“Of course I do,” she admitted in certainty. “I—I love you as well.”

Darcy nodded, and Elizabeth’s answer seemed to ease his spirit. Elizabeth had enough of questions.

“You were truly missed; Mary missed you keenly as there was no one at Lucas Lodge to play the violin,” she jokingly changed the course of conversation. “I surprised even myself, for I was indeed a dutiful wife while you were gone. I did not go to the church, though I was obliged to speak with the curate after supper, only by his scheme.”

“His scheme? What did he say to you?” Darcy was curt.

“Very little,” Elizabeth countered. “He does inquire a great deal after Kympton parish however, and when I asked him what business he had with you, he said he had none.”

“I will never entertain a relationship of business with that man,” Darcy snarled, though he whispered for the sake of those asleep in the house.

“He makes me uneasy, Fitzwilliam.”

Elizabeth sat up to face her husband, as Darcy ran his palm across his face to wipe the perspiration that did bead on his brow. He was compelled to rid himself and Elizabeth of the man, though he did not know how it was to be accomplished.

“Are you angry with me?” Elizabeth whispered.

With a strong intake of breath, Darcy’s ill temper vanished, and he apologized as he had done before, as he had done when he abruptly left Longbourn.

“Forgive me for the things I have said in the last few days. Pray, it is not possible to be angry with you. You are the joy of my life, but....”

“…but, I am headstrong—and silly,” she finished his sentence before she was to hear it from Darcy’s own lips. “I have been a cause of embarrassment to you. That ridiculous entry in the ledger.”

Darcy’s hands cupped his wife’s cheeks to stop her speculation; “...but I have been known to say things in haste that I do not mean. You are not silly and you could never be an embarrassment, for you are lovelier to me than any woman I know.”

“My family and I—we can be the cause of much trouble,” she said to him.

“You have always been worth the trouble,” he chuckled, and kissed her lips. “I do have some good news to tell you.”

“I do like to hear good news.”

“I believe that Colonel Fitzwilliam will soon announce an attachment—an engagement.”

“That is good news,” Elizabeth was overjoyed. “He is a fine man, but is the woman worthy of him, do you think?”

“I do hope so,” Darcy raised an eyebrow, “and so does my cousin, for he has not met with her yet.”

“How so?” Elizabeth spoke in puzzlement; and then quivered; “Tell me that his father does not want to arrange a marriage.”


Elizabeth sighed, “I hoped that it would not be the case, but if it is to happen in such a way, I pray that he finds a good match. Colonel Fitzwilliam told me himself when we met at Rosings Park that he was obliged to marry a woman who would bring fortune to his house.”

“My cousin discussed marriage with you—at Rosings?”

“I was not the girl for him;” a statement Elizabeth was very hasty in making.

Darcy grimaced. “He obviously did not know of my feelings for you.”

“How could he?” Elizabeth supposed. “I was not even certain of what feelings you had for me.”

Darcy laid back onto the pillow and once more drew Elizabeth close to his side. “Go to sleep now,” he whispered, his fingers stroking her curls. “I have no wish to quarrel; and no vigor for any more talk.”

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