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Convenience of That Kind

Chapter Text

Convenience of that kind

Content:
Chapter 1 The Beginning
Chapter 2 The Inconvenience at Longbourn
Chapter 3 The Inconvenience of Town
Chapter 4 The Inconvenience of Travel
Chapter 5 The Inconvenience of Pemberley
Chapter 6 The Convenience of Marriage

 

Chapter 1 The Beginning

"By all means," cried Bingley; "let us hear all the particulars, not forgetting their comparative height and size; for that will have more weight in the argument, Miss Bennet, than you may be aware of. I assure you, that if Darcy were not such a great tall fellow, in comparison with myself, I should not pay him half so much deference. I declare I do not know a more awful object than Darcy, on particular occasions, and in particular places; at his own house especially, and of a Sunday evening, when he has nothing to do." (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 10.)

“One might wonder at the two of you being friends at all, Mr Bingley, considering the difference in your dispositions?” Elizabeth tilted her head and watched Bingley intently.
“Oh, I am at his disposal, as is his cousin, the Colonel and many more friends in town. His vast knowledge of estate management, investments and politics, not to forget his many great connections, he is invaluable to those who he counts as a friend. There is nothing he will not do for those who are lucky enough to enter his inner circle. I count myself fortunate indeed to be considered a friend and I am thrilled when I, in a small way, can repay some of his efforts towards securing my place in society. In fact, he rescued me from a very unfortunate alliance, this spring. A shrewd, young lady had set her cap on me and had Darcy not intervened... I might have found myself in a very undesirable circumstance.”
“I wonder why he has not married and secured a lasting convenience of that kind?”
Mr Darcy scoffed. He was not particularly pleased by being discussed as he was not in the room, despite the lavish praise that was heaped upon him.
“Marry? I thank you, no! I have not avoided the daughters of matchmaking mama's for years, only to succumb voluntarily.”
“Really?” At Miss Elizabeth’s astonished utterances, Bingley jumped back into the discussion.
“He is much sought after, I can assure you. He never has a moments peace when we are attending functions in town. Every eligible, and some not so eligible ladies hunt him down like a prey. It is a miracle he has not been caught.”
“Yet,” Elizabeth muttered under her breath, just a little too loud. Mr Darcy heard her.
“Yet, Miss Elizabeth? Are you doubting my ability to remain unmarried?”
Elizabeth folded her hands demurely in her lap before raising her eyes, to meet his penetrating gaze.
“My father thought he was just as clever. I guess he would have preferred a choice in the matter before he was outwitted by a solicitors daughter of mean understanding. Served him well for his supercilious attitude towards the fairer sex though. It would have been better if he had made a choice of someone adequate with some redeeming qualities than to wait until he got caught but as I am the result of the mésalliance, I can hardly complain.
Surely there must be a lady in your exalted circle of friends that it would not be a punishment to spend an occasional evening with? You could forego dancing altogether and stay at the card games all night or stalk the periphery of the dance floor, uninterrupted. You would have someone to run your houses and aid you with the caretaking of your sister. She must be nearing her come out and some female guidance in that respect must be welcome or are you planning to take her to the modiste yourself?
Teach her to curtsy before the queen? It may take days to learn to walk backwards with several yards of train behind you. I speak of experience, my aunt nearly gave up teaching me.”

Elizabeth smirked at the end of her tirade. She was known to occasionally express opinions that were not her own, in her less than honourable pursuit of making sport of others.
Mr Darcy never knew what hit him but felt a strange familiarity with some of her expressions. He had a nagging feeling of something he could not quite catch but it left him unsettled. He remained deep in thought for the rest of the evening. A little seedling of doubt had been sown in his mind and he continued to ponder the matter after he retired for the night.
***
‘It might very well be an asset, to be wed. Under the condition that the lady was not too demanding, fawning, prone towards insipid conversations of lace and ribbons or unpleasant to look upon.
Nice teeth was a must, an avid reader would be beneficial as readers seemed to lean more towards quietness than conversation. He had contemplated leaving Pemberley to Georgiana and her offspring but he had an ingrown sense that it was his duty to provide an heir from his own loins. Regardless of the distasteful notion that was. His fortune was more than adequate but one would never turn down an opportunity to fill up one's coffers.
The thought of leaving the responsibility for the household matters in someone else's hands was quite tempting. It would release some of his time for more pleasurable pursuits.
Being able to forgo his escort duties, every time Georgiana had an appointment with her modiste, haberdasher and whatnot would be an added blessing. The most pressing reason to consider the unpalatable notion of entering the wedded state was due to an event in spring. A fifteen-year-old chatterbox, from Georgiana's school, had managed to trick him into the library alone, under the pretence that Georgiana had urgent need of him. He had stupidly followed her and had she not been a lowly tradesman’s daughter but a daughter of a peer, he would have been utterly trapped. Fortunately for him, not so fortunately for the girl in question, he had refused to succumb to her father's insistence that a speedy marriage should take place...
Immediately removed Georgiana from the school and set her up in her own establishment which had not turned out so well.
It had ended in disaster as he had been grievously deceived by the companion he and Richard had chosen.
Better not dwell on that thought too long as the event gave him no credit.
A wife could be an advantage if he could find someone with some experience with young girls at their most trying age. He could leave them both at Pemberley with the good conscience that his beloved sister was properly taken care of.
If only he could find the right lady...

Before he fell asleep, the thought of the impertinent stranger with the witty remarks who had been a little too familiar with her statements, made him decide to not pay her any more attention. Lest she would begin interfering with other aspects of his life. He had plenty of relatives that were working on him in all matter of concerns, he was not in need of anymore inconvenience of that kind.
***
The next morning, Mr Darcy staid true to his conviction and barely uttered a word to the guests of the house and did not even deign to speak above ten words the entire morning. After bidding them farewell, he reverted back to his room, to write a letter to Georgiana on the latest events. A rendition of the ridiculous conversation, the night prior, would surely cheer her up.

 

The eldest Bennet sisters had been home but a few days when a surprise visitor turned up on Longbourn’s doorstep.
It was not a surprise to all the inhabitants of Longbourn as Mr Bennet had received a missive, a fortnight past, with the information of the dreaded cousin and heir to Longbourn's imminent arrival. He had conveniently neglected to mention it to the rest of the household, for reasons only known to himself.
***
The chance encounter between Mr Darcy and Mr Wickham earlier in the day had intrigued Elizabeth's curiosity. She did not mind the least when Mr Wickham sought her out in a quiet corner of the room. He soon had her in rapt attention with a scandalous tale of Mr Darcy who had deprived him of his rightful inheritance. She was swallowing the whole sordid tale right up until the moment when Mr Wickham mentioned Mr Darcy is engaged to his cousin Miss Anne de Bourgh. A split second of indecisiveness culminated in her, impulsively opting to call him out. She laughed softly before addressing the issue.
“Come now, Mr Wickham... I have only known Mr Darcy for a month and even I know of his reluctance, nay abhorrence towards the married state. You have to come up with something more plausible than that. You had me fooled for a while though but on second thought... If the late Mr Darcy had left you the living, the executor of the will would certainly have made sure it was implemented. If it was only vaguely implied or under certain conditions, I guess the conditions have not been met or some impediment or other made it impossible. You should write a book, Mr Wickham, your storytelling abilities are fabulous. I found your story, highly entertaining.”
The flash of anger that had infused Mr Wickham’s countenance had not escaped Elizabeth and she was worried she had gone too far when a wide, insincere smile, spread on his countenance.
“You have a keen mind, Miss Elizabeth. Please excuse me, Lieutenant Denny needs some rescue at the card table.”
‘Yes, leave,’ Elizabeth thought. To conjecture up such a malicious story, with the obvious intent of destroying a respectable man’s reputation, did not sit well with Elizabeth and she immediately decided to warn her friends about his penchant towards fabricated gossip. It would not do if someone should believe him as Mr Darcy had not left the Meryton society with the best first impression, nor a second one if she was to be honest, but that was not a valid reason for spreading flat out lies.
Mr Wickham avoided her for the rest of the evening, which suited Elizabeth just fine. She did notice his preference for her most silly sister and made a mental note of enlightening her sisters as soon as they were home. If he could lie in such a charming way, there were probably more wiles he was culpable of...
***
The evening of the Netherfield ball were upon them and the Bennets arrived fashionably late but, unfortunately for Elizabeth, in time for the first set that had been previously claimed by her odious cousin.
Elizabeth seriously contemplated delaying their departure infinitely to escape the dreaded half-hour but it would not be fair to Jane.

Jane was smiling shyly when she thought no one was looking, blushing sweetly when Bingley's name was mentioned and had taken prodigiously care of her appearance before the ball. Not that it was needed, Jane would look beautiful in a burlap sack with no adornments whatsoever but the material point was that her sister was in love and far be it for Elizabeth to put sticks in the wheels of her sister’s chance of happiness. She would meet enough resistance from his sisters and his friend. The least Elizabeth could do was to be accommodating and let nature to take its course.

***

The receiving line was thinning out when the Bennets reached the Bingleys. Mr Bingley wasted no time in securing Jane's hand for the first set while Elizabeth was looking frantically around for an escape route, none was to be had though and she capitulated to her fate while Caroline bemoaned her brother’s abandonment for the first set. Mr Darcy seemed unmoved by her not so subtle hints for a dance partner.
Unfortunately, it only made her more desperate...

“Who is your partner for the first set Mr Darcy?”

“Miss Bingley, you know I never dance the first set at any ball.”

“But, Mr Darcy, my brother is treating me abominably! The mortification of being abandoned as hostess, at his first ball in the neighbourhood, without a dance partner? I will be the laughing stock of the neighbourhood. Look they are already snickering at me behind their fans.”

Darcy let his gaze travel the room and there were indeed several smirks and titters about the room, pointed at their direction. He could not let his friend’s little sister be treated in such an infamous manner.

Darcy bowed and extended his hand towards Miss Bingley who eagerly latched on with all her might.
With good reason, as it turned out. The dance had been promised to a miffed Sir William Lucas although Miss Bingley claimed he had misunderstood and she procured proof that she had written his name on the second set on her dance-card.

The reason for the smirks and tittering also became obvious to Mr Darcy when he turned to escort the well pleased cunning lady to the dance floor.
Behind him, Elizabeth struggled to help a young ungainly man from toppling over his own legs as he had bowed a tad too deep towards the aforementioned enchantress.

His mood plummeted to a previously unknown low, even for such unpleasantness as a ball. He, who prided himself of his ability to avoid entrapment had just been duped by a much less savvy opponent than he deemed himself to be.

The dance continued in stony silence from one towering dance partner, utterly wasted on the chattering female partner which tattled on relentlessly about the splendour of the room and the insipidness of the other couples.

Not until the spellcaster dancing with the graceless parson was mentioned did he listen to her rant.

“Poor Eliza, dancing with her clumsy cousin. I hear they are soon to be engaged if the mother is anything to go by.
Perhaps it is the cousin, Mr Collins, who deserves our compassion.
Eliza has a sharp tongue and she has been wielding it unencumbered around Meryton. I heard from Mrs Nichols that she had incited one of the officers at Mrs Phillips card party. Perhaps you have met him when you dined with the officers. He is in the Derbyshire militia, a lieutenant Wickham?”
Caroline did not wait for a reply, neither did she notice the stiffening in Mr Darcy's posture. She was too engrossed in sharing malicious gossip about the fine-eyed Eliza to pay attention.

“She had laughed at his childhood woes, she must be utterly deprived of feeling. I am not surprised as I have noticed a conceited sort of independence in her manners.”

Caroline finally drew breath and looked towards her adversary. Elizabeth’s cheeks were flushed with embarrassment and she closed her eyes and bit her lip as her cousin stepped on her slipper clad toes for the umpteenth time. The look of unmitigated relief that spread across her countenance as the second set ended was unmistakable. She gave her cousin a swift curtsy, turned and fled to the sanctuary of her father’s presence.

Mr Bennet looked thoroughly amused and expressed his delight to his daughter who did not appreciate the sentiment.

“This is no time to be missish, my Lizzy. We are at a ball no less. Time to be merry and let others laugh at us as we laugh at them in return.”

Elizabeth left her father side as the dreaded cousin had spotted her retreat and was heading in their direction. She immediately chose to saunter the outskirts of the ballroom in the opposite direction which offered the additional allurement of her friend Charlotte.

***

“Charlotte, I am so glad you are here. You look absolutely stunning, is it a new gown?”

Elizabeth grabbed both Charlotte hands and held on for dear life.
Charlotte could feel the tension in her friends iron grip and decided to take her mind off the humiliating spectacle she had just made on the ballroom floor.

“Yes, it is. Not that it will do me any good but my mother insisted...
What is it that I hear, Elizabeth. Offending one of the officers?”

Elizabeth chuckled.

“I would not if he had not told me such a ludicrous story. He had me fooled for a bit. I was quite drawn to his tale of woe, regardless of the impropriety of sharing such private sentiments with a complete stranger...
As it is with all liars, they eventually reveal themselves with inaccuracies or as in this instance, a flat out lie.
He tried to convince me that Mr Darcy was engaged to be married to his cousin, Miss Anne de Bourgh. Why he was sharing this with me, I do not know but I knew he was lying because I do not believe I have ever met a man, less inclined to marry...”

Charlotte was trying to silence Elizabeth but it was too late as the man in question had reached them.

“Miss Elizabeth? May I have the pleasure of dancing the supper set with you?”

Elizabeth had had a ready refusal on her tongue because the third set was promised to Mr Bingley. The supper set, on the other hand, lay unclaimed on her dance-card.

“You may,” was all she managed to stutter out before he turned his back on her and walked away.
Elizabeth stood rooted to the spot. ‘Had she not had enough humiliation for one night? Now she had to dance with the insufferable Mr Darcy as well. What could he mean by it? When had she gone from tolerable but not handsome enough, to be acceptable to dance with?”

Darcy had his motives. Having danced the first, somewhat symbolic set with Miss Bingley. He decided that he had better dance all the other sets, that one could ladle with intentions, with different ladies. Throwing any speculators off the shrewd Miss Bingley's plan.
Who he would choose for the last set, he had not decided but Miss Elizabeth’s discerning mind had caught his attention by ratting out Mr Wickham. Not many had the wherewithal to question that mans glib tongue...

***

Their dance begun as their last interlude at Netherfield's library, in silence.
As they circled each other in the Sarabande, Elizabeth was of a mind of letting him have his way when the allure of needling him with insipid conversation, won out. He deserved to be as uncomfortable as she.

“Miss Bingley has put a marvellous effort into making a spectacular ball, Mr Darcy. I must say that private ones are much more pleasant than public ones. Now it is your turn to comment, perhaps on the room or the number of couples? I am eagerly awaiting an éclat of proverbs that will amaze the whole room. ”

“Do you and your sisters often walk to Meryton?”

“Yes, we do. When you met us the other day, we had just formed a new acquaintance, a Mr Wickham, are you familiar with the gentleman?”

“Yes, more than I would have preferred. I heard you had outed him on his lies. I must say I am thoroughly impressed by your discerning mind.”

“Did I discern a compliment, Mr Darcy? May I entrust you to catch me if I faint?”

Mr Darcy's posture stiffened which made Elizabeth realise that her comments might be misunderstood.

“Do not worry, Mr Darcy, I never faint. You are safe from me...”

Darcy was not mollified at all but kept a deep frown between his brows.

“I pay the ladies compliments when they are deserved.”

“Of course, Mr Darcy, I did not mean you were lacking in manners. I have often heard you compliment your sister stellar accomplishments and Miss Bingley's skills as a hostess but you must admit that it is a novel experience for me. Tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt, as I am... Oh, not to forget, slighted by other men. It is charitable of you to condescend to such an ordeal as dancing with the savages, Mr Darcy. I am most obliged.”

“You must have a keen sense of hearing Miss Elizabeth.”

“Yes, I am not so advanced in years yet as to have lost my hearing.”

Mr Darcy chuckled.

“Are you never short of an answer Miss Elizabeth?”

“Rarely.”

“I owe you an apology, Miss Elizabeth. I have been in a foul mood of late, especially at the Meryton assembly, which I had no wish to attend and much less dance. I told an untruth to stop Mr Bingley's pestering. I am heartily sorry that I disparaged your pleasing appearance as an end to a means. I am not flattering myself by making excuses, Miss Bennet. I am trying to explain how I came to behave so abominably towards a lady.”

“Thank you, Mr Darcy.”

Sir William took advantage of the lull in their conversation and interrupted the whole line by stepping in their midst.

“I must congratulate you, Sir. Such superior dancing is rarely to be seen. Allow me to say that your fair partner does not disgrace you and I hope to have this pleasure often repeated when a certain event takes place.”
Sir William had the audacity to wink at Elizabeth who answered with a look of mild disapproval. “Carry on, carry on. I can see those beautiful eyes berating me for my interruption.”

***

Sir William had nodded towards Mr Bingley and Jane who formed the head of the line of dancers.
Two pair of eyes followed Sir William’s indicated direction.
Delight suffused Elizabeth’s countenance while the gentleman’s countenance portrayed concern. Refocusing on each other as the music ended, it soon became apparent that their sentiments differed vastly.

They clapped politely to thank the musicians that were taking a well-deserved break while the guests adjourned to the dining room.

Mr Darcy held out Elizabeth’s seat as there were hardly enough footmen in the room to accommodate all the ladies.

“Thank you,” Elizabeth uttered primly as Darcy sat down beside her.

Fortunately, her mother was seated at the opposite end of the table.
While Jane and Bingley sat opposite them in quiet conversation. Apparently oblivious to their surroundings.

All things considered, it went well enough. Mr Bingley would be proud of them as no arguments ensued over the soup, fish or partridge. Not that he noticed as he was too occupied with wooing her most beloved sister but, at least, she succeeded in keeping his friend from interfering.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2 The inconvenience at Longbourn

Miss Bingley initially baulked when Mr Darcy offered to convey her missive to Miss Jane Bennet.
The thought that the verification of the content of the letter being handed over by the aforementioned gentleman made her swiftly change her mind.

“I thank you, Mr Darcy. You are so kind. Can I not persuade you to ride in the carriage with us? It is plenty of room and the company would be much appreciated. I would feel much safer with an additional gentleman for protection.”
Miss Bingley simpered and batted her lashes to no avail. Mr Darcy was firm in his preference to ride into town on his beloved stallion.
***
Darcy mounted his horse and set out for Longbourn.
His haste, he reckoned was due to the relief of being free from Mr Bingley‘s fawning sisters, his elation he thought was the result of the anticipation of soon being reunited with his own sister.
As he entered the courtyard of Longbourn, the estate seemed so quiet it might have been deserted.
He led his horse towards the stables to locate someone who could take care of his mount, the few minutes it would take to hand over the letter. He finally found a young lad, handed over the reins, a half-crown for his trouble and got ample reassurance of the comfort his horse would receive.
The letter was delivered swiftly and he was going to fetch his horse when a flourish of brown skirts flew out the door and headed towards the pond. Seconds later, a mass of light-grey fabric followed, screeching.
“Lizzy, Liiizzzyyy! Come back here at once, you have to marry Mr Collins. I will never speak to you again if you do not. Not that speaking gives me much pleasure, my nerves does not tolerate it...”
Ducks and geese flapped and wobbled frantically to get out of the way of the lady’s piercing screams, making a spectacle that was as scandalous as it was humorous. Darcy was trying hard not to laugh when the chasee's pleading reply chastened him.
“You have to marry him, Lizzy, you will have this house.”
“I do not care mama.”
“Stubborn headstrong girl, you will do as I say and marry Mr Collins. “
“I cannot mama. We do not suit, he is so ridiculous and I can never make him happy nor can he make me happy.”
“Pfft, happiness in marriage is very rare Elizabeth. Think of your mother and sisters...
Do you want us to end up in the hedgerows?
With not a penny to our name?
It is up to you to secure our futures. I will not let you ruin this opportunity for security, I am going to fetch your father.”

***

Assuming the footsteps approaching were those of her father, Elizabeth steeled herself for the battle to come and turned, chin high and shoulders back. She slumped when the person approaching was her sister, looking very distressed.
“What is the matter, Jane? I assure you, I am not about to give in. They cannot make me!”
“I know Elizabeth but I think you should. The Netherfield party has left for London with no intention of coming back. I was most grievously deceived in thinking Mr Bingley had any intentions towards me. He is about to get engaged to Miss Darcy and..”
“That is not possible, Miss Darcy is not even out yet and Mr Bingley behaved as a man very much in love with you, my dear Jane. It cannot be true!”
“Mr Darcy gave me the letter himself. Although it was written in Miss Bingley’s hand, of course.”
As speaking of the devil, the man himself approach in ardent strides.
“Miss Elizabeth, would you do me the honour of accepting my hand in marriage. It will be a platonic union of likeminded individuals with as little inconvenience as possible to our daily routines.
I will be much occupied and so will you with the responsibilities of running a large house and a precious sister to offer guidance. I would not mind if Miss Bennet accompanied you to town or Pemberley when we travel dither but the rest of your family I will suggest you visit at Longbourn at your leisure. Perhaps with the exception of your father, if he is comfortable leaving your mother and other sisters unattended. I will importune your time as little as possible, perhaps some companionship during dinner and I might join you in the library when you read. Otherwise, I will bother you as little as possible.”

“You forgot to bend down on one knee Mr Darcy.”
Elizabeth was not sure if she should laugh at him or smack him over the head. This day was getting more and more absurd by the minute.
“Do not be ridiculous, this is not a romantic interlude between two people in love. It is a business proposition. I offer you and your family security while you will repay me buy running my house, aid in the care of my sister until she marries and occasionally fend off any females that might still be vying for my attention. There is the issue of heirs which I have not yet decided upon. I might leave the estate to my sister and her offspring but I might, some years into the future, decide that it will be prudent to produce some of my own. If that should come to pass, I expect you to provide the necessary...”
Unable to explain the “necessary” to two, wide-eyed, open-mouthed maidens, Mr Darcy fell silent with a lopsided smile and his hand extended towards Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was trying to form coherent thoughts but her mind was not cooperating. ‘What to do? What choice was there, really? A man she could at least have a reasonable conversation with, he had a well-stocked library, if Miss Bingley was anything to go buy.’
Elizabeth harboured some doubts about that ladies veracity but it had not been contradicted by the other occupants of the room when expressed. He made it sound almost conceivable to be Mr Darcy's wife. There was nothing redeeming in her other option. The thought of retiring at night with Mr Collins sent frissons down her back and it was not of the pleasant kind.
“Why, Mr Darcy. When you can have your pick at any of the ladies in the ballrooms of London, would you choose me? A country born and bred with little fortune and even less, desirable connections.”
“I prefer the country to town and I venture into London as little as possible. I admire your keen intellect and discernment. You do not fawn, bat your lashes or cling to my arm which is conduct I utterly abhor. In addition, you speak your mind. I find that it is healthy to be contradicted now and then as it makes me re-evaluate my views. If I wanted a conversation with no opposition I could manage that by talking to my reflection glass...”
“What flattery Mr Darcy, who would have thought you had such an ingenious ability at eloquence of speech.”
Elizabeth was not being entirely sarcastic, the monologue had left her with a sense of mutual respect if not the profound love of her youthful imaginations. The opportunity to reunite her sister with Mr Bingley was another incentive for acceptance. In the end, it was the fast-approaching Mr Bennet, Mrs Bennet and Mr Collins that spurred her into making a decision. In the choice between two evils, there was not much to consider really. She could not be certain her father could withstand the pressure her mother would put upon him, should she decline Mr Collins offer. The fact that he had left his precious library and followed her mother out of doors, made it entirely plausible that he supported her mother. Even worse, Mr Collins was close on their heels. She would heed her own preaching and make the choice herself.
“I accept Mr Darcy.”
***
Mr Darcy thought to inform Mr Bennet of the understanding they had reached but between Mrs Bennet's wailing, Mr Collins loud protests and Mr Bennet's futile attempts of calming the fracas, he opted to do what was very out of character but extremely effective.
He grabbed Elizabeth's cheeks and planted a firm kiss on her lips. That did the trick and you could have heard a needle falling to the ground by the utter silence that followed.
“Now that I have your attention, I have a matter of great import to discuss with Mr Bennet. Excuse us, ladies.”
Mr Darcy bowed to the ladies and set out in the direction of the house, expecting Mr Bennet to follow, which he did.
The havoc that followed, you can well imagine. Accusations were thrown in all directions and the mention of prior engagements, the disappointment of a certain Lady, stubborn and headstrong children, entails and whatnot were broached.
Not that it mattered, as our dear couple were married the day before Christmas eve. A very contrite Bingley attended as best man, his sisters glimmered with their absence.
Mrs Bennet took all the credit of bringing the marriage about. Mr Collins had returned to Kent an engaged man, although the unfortunate lady was not a Bennet.
Mr Bennet could be found in his study at any time of the day, even most of the meals were taken on a tray in said location.

***

Happy was the day that the wedding was done, the breakfast was over and silence descended on the frayed nerves of the master of Longbourn.
He was missing one favourite daughter but with the debacle, the last weeks had entailed, he was not all sorry to wave her goodbye.

***

There was another man who was even more pleased to leave the ruckus of Longbourn house. Mr Darcy was so relieved when the carriage pulled out of the yard that he would have married any of the Bennet daughters, for a few moments of peace.
Now, safely ensconced in the carriage, heading towards their house in town, he could finally breathe.
Both newlyweds sat primly on opposite seats, Elizabeth facing forward, Darcy with his back against the direction they travelled. Elizabeth folded her hands demurely in her lap and Darcy recognised the gesture as a telltale sign that an announcement of some importance was imminent.

“Do we have to consummate our wedding, do you think? As to make any attempts of annulment void? I know you have not decided on the question of an heir but I would not like to put us in a vulnerable position with Lady Catherine...”

The aforementioned lady had sent a letter at first, making her sentiments known. Her orders had gone unheeded and the great lady had descended upon Longbourn with a firm determination to break the betrothal by any means necessary. Reasoning, threats, blackmail and bribe were all broached but had no effect on Mrs Bennet most headstrong daughter. She proceeded to marry Mr Darcy with little to no concern for the pollution of Pemberley's shades.

“No, I believe not. I do not think it will be necessary as I have heard that to annul a marriage, there has to be either a too close family connection or that the ability to consummate are lacking, not the actual consummation per se...”

“Oh... How does one make certain that the ability is intact?”

Had Elizabeth looked at Darcy's incredulous expression, she might have stopped at that but as she was admiring the passing scenery, she was quite oblivious to the conundrum she had put her newly acquired husband in...

“You will have to take my word for it...

“Will that stand up in court?”

When no answer was forthcoming, Elizabeth turned towards her husband and was rather amused by his bewildered expression.

“We should look into that when we arrive in town, a convenient distance from your solicitor.”

“Dear wife, that is hardly a topic I could address with Mr Knightly. He would toss me out of his office or commit me to bedlam if I made such an inquiry.”

“Do not patronize me, dear husband. If not your man of the law, who else will be able to confirm or contradict your beliefs?”

After a long silence of intense speculation on both sides of the carriage, Mr Darcy sighed heavily.

“I suppose we will have to consummate then.”

“Yes, I suppose we must... It cannot be that arduous a task, surely it will be over before you know it. It will have the additional benefit of quelling any gossip from the servants as well.”

“My servants do not gossip!”

“You believe that, if it gives you comfort but I am certain that there will be someone checking for rumpled sheets and a droplet of blood, come morning. Every household has at least one nosy servant, it is just a question of leaving enough evidence to satisfy their thirst.”

“I understand that there might be some pain involved.”

“As my mother informed me, that pleasure will be mine and not yours Mr Darcy. I have experienced some mishaps in my youth, I am sure I will survive. My mother assured me that it will only be a few seconds and that cannot be such a hardship, surely.”

 

Darcy house, the mistress chambers, later in the evening.
“Surely, I will not need to be unclothed... My mother said that I only had to hoist my nightgown up to my waist. You do not need to see my upper half.”
The last came out in a faint whisper.
“Your mother is the Oracle of Delphi on the consummation of marriage then?”
“No... It was confirmed by aunt Gardiner as well.”
“What about my pleasure?”
“They were quite insistent that the man took pleasure of the pursuit, regardless of how, when, where and whom. The females are much more difficult to satisfy.”
“Right. You are aware that I will be looking at your most private parts?”
“Certainly not! I will extinguish all the candles before we proceed.”
“I will just unbutton my fall then, I would be mortified if you accidentally caught a glimpse of my arse.” The sarcasm in this utterance was not lost on his wife but she chose to overlook it.
“You are welcome to keep as many clothes on, as make you comfortable dear husband.”
“Thank you, dear wife, let us proceed to the bed then.”
“Wait! I just thought we should move into your chamber. If the experience should prove unpalatable, I would hate to ruin the lovely ambience in this chamber, possibly for all eternity.”
“Right, my chamber it is then. After you fair lady.”
“It is a little late for flattery Mr Darcy. We are already married.”
The unlikely couple adjourned to the abutting chamber and Elizabeth climbed into the bed, under the covers, lay down on her back and closed her eyes. Darcy climbed after her and tried to locate her in all the fabric.
“Blast!”
“Mrs Darcy, would you be so kind as to remove your dressing gown, at the very least? I do not seem to be able to locate you with all the clothes and covers getting entangled.”
“Sure. Oh, I forgot to extinguish the candles as well. I am so distracted, pardon me. I have never consummated a marriage before...”
Elizabeth fought the covers and climbed over Mr Darcy to shed her dressing gown and blow out the candles while Darcy flipped lazily to his back, hands tucked behind his head.
“You are aware that your nightgown is see-through and your uhm, upper half is particularly exposed every time you stretch to reach the candles.”
“Drat! You are right. Close your eyes.”
“No, I am quite determined to check that all the lights are out.”
“I will just turn my back at you then.”
“Yes, your derrière is a much more interesting view.”
Elizabeth turned an angry glare at her husband before putting a little extra effort into extinguishing the last candle. Elizabeth climbed into the bed and a new struggle ensued.
“No, it is impossible. I have to shed my coat and possibly my waistcoat as well. I cannot move in these tight-fitted garments.”
Darcy climbed out of the bed and lit a candle to put away his clothes neatly. Elizabeth was watching from the bed and had entered the exact same pose as her husband had previously sported.
Darcy smirked but he could soon be heard, muttering under his breath.
“One would think, taking an intelligent one would save you a lot of trouble... More the fool me.”
Looking up he grinned at his wife.
“Your gown is still is scandalously see-through.”
“Yes, but since you seem unable to find me under the covers, I opted for easier access. No one shall accuse me of not being an accommodating wife.”
A chuckle was heard but never confirmed, by the stoic Mr Darcy.
The continuation was uneventful or as uneventful as a consummation of a marriage could be. There were no howling in pain, the bloodshed was minimised down to two, hardly distinguishable droplets on the sheet and no ones sensibilities was shattered.
Although none of the participants would ever admit it, the affair had been surprisingly pleasurable...

Chapter Text

Chapter 3 The Inconvenience of Town

Elizabeth awoke bright and early on the first morning as Mrs Darcy and found herself in somewhat of a conundrum. Unclothed, pressed against her husband's chest and utterly embarrassed.
She needed to use the necessary but to accomplish that, she had to extract herself from the massive form that was her husband, preferably without waking him.
As it turned out, it was no trouble at all, her husband slept like a lord and she scooted out of his arms effortlessly. The pillow she had used to imitate her body had probably been a surplus precaution.
Preferring not to do the unmentionable in close proximity to Mr Darcy, she left the masters chamber and went to her own chamber.
Her maid was busy preparing a bath in her dressing room and Elizabeth was dressed and ready in less than an hour.
Feeling refreshed but somewhat sore, she was pondering on what to do as breakfast probably was at least an hour away. Her eyes fell on Hyde Park, outside her window.
‘Yes, a stroll was what she needed. That would set her up nicely and relieve her aching muscles.’
Venturing downstairs, fending off a very insistent footman that wanted to accompany her, she was finally at the park. Stretching her legs in long strides felt amazing, filling her lungs with the snippy morning air felt even better and Elizabeth was delightfully content when someone grabbed her by the elbow.
“Unhand me at once, Sir!”
“No!”
“Why ever not?”
“Because I do not trust you to follow my orders.”
“Really, if you make your orders sensible, I am sure we will come to an understanding.”
“What is considered sensible is relative I suppose but as you went out on your own after Matthew had warned, cajoled and threatened you to allow him to accompany you, I have little hope of reaching any form of rational understanding.”
“I am perfectly capable of walking without company. In fact, the company will defy the purpose of walking entirely.”
Elizabeth was working up quite a temper when Darcy loosened his grip and wrapped her hand around his arm instead. His newfound trust in his wife's unwillingness to flee was belied by his hand laying firmly on top of her dainty one.
“This is not Longbourn and you are no longer the daughter of an insignificant squire. You are Mrs Darcy and an object of interest for those with nefarious purposes.”
Elizabeth scoffed.
“Nobody knows about that yet and who would even recognise me?”
“The announcement in the Times this morning, makes the first highly implausible and for the second... Even an imbecile would manage to grasp that the beautiful, young, unknown lady exiting from Darcy house would be the new Mrs Darcy...”
“Ha! You mean the tolerable lady, not handsome enough to tempt. I am sure I will be safe.”
With that, Elizabeth slipped her hand out of his grip and turned back towards Darcy house in long strides.
“Elizabeth!”
Elizabeth had no chance in outrunning the long legs of Mr Darcy who soon caught up with her.

“You will not leave my house unattended or I will not take you to see the modiste on Bond street.”
“How dreadful, to miss the opportunity to stand completely still for hours on end, being pricked by needles. I shall miss it terribly.”

“Very well, if that is how you like it. I will close off the library.”

Elizabeth gasped in horrification.

“You would not!”
“Yes, I would.”
“But why? Are you that intent on ordering me about that I cannot even walk out of doors without a chaperon? I assure you, Mr Darcy, that it is very little chance of me embarrassing you in front of any of your acquaintances, this early in the morning. I have not met another soul this far. And...”

“That is not my objection Mrs Darcy. You may not encounter any of my acquaintances but there are people who may take you and hold you for ransom, or worse...”
Elizabeth gasped and felt utterly chastened. The thought never entered her head. As always, when she felt embarrassed, humour was her solution.
“What is the price on a country girl these days, Mr Darcy?”
“Between ten and fifty thousand, I would guess.”
“Heaven forfend, that is an awful lot of money.”
“Yes, I would rather not part with such a sum, if it can be helped.”
“You would pay fifty thousand pounds to release me from captivity?”
“Of course! You are my wife, Mrs Darcy.”
“In name only.”
Elizabeth muttered under her breath but not silent enough to escape Mr Darcy's keen hearing.
“Not quite. In name and in God's eyes Mrs Darcy, we are one flesh and I will do whatever necessary to keep you safe. That is my responsibility.”
The couple went home in quiet contemplation and spent the rest of the day, familiarizing Elizabeth with their townhome.
***
Elizabeth enjoyed the adventure of discovering the hidden treasures of her new home while Darcy found it safer to keep his adventurous wife under close observation. Expecting her to venture off with the slightest opportunity.
Keeping themselves thus occupied until evening, they found peaceful rest when the night came, safely ensconced in separate chambers.
***
The next day, Darcy resumed his duties towards his estate and his business obligations while his wife was left managing the household's account book. Sitting quietly, side by side in Mr Darcy's study as there was no mistress study in their townhouse.
By late evening, they were à jour with most of their chores, which left little to occupy them on day three. A short stroll in the Park before breaking their fast was had but after dining, they were sitting in the library, twinning their thumbs. The newlyweds were restless and bored.
By evening, Elizabeth was ready to tear her hair out. The silence and lack of occupation was taking its toll on her equilibrium, although she did not resent her husband’s ability to be silent, she craved something to while away the hours.
“Will we be long in town or will we travel to Pemberley soon?”
The fabulous reports she had had on the northern county, made her wish to travel there, sooner rather than later.
“I would think at least a month. I suspect the callers will begin arriving in four days time Mrs Darcy.”
“Will there be many, do you think?”
“Yes, I suspect all the matrons of the ton, and a few daughters as well, there are probably many who are curious to see the new Mrs Darcy...”
Elizabeth pondered at the thought for a little while. She was bored but hours on end of insipid conversations about the weather was not her idea of a pleasant morning.
“Might it not be wise to concoct a scheme to greet them all at once? Saving time and enable us to venture sooner to the country?”
The idea of Pemberley was not at all an unpleasant one to Mr Darcy.
“How will you achieve that Mrs Darcy?”
“Well... A trip to the opera or the theatre, perhaps even Vauxhall gardens might be a means of covering as many introductions at once as possible.”
“Hmm, you might be right. If we are lucky they will be busy informing everybody of the encounter and forget to call on us.”
“Do you really think we will draw that much attention?”
“Yes!”
“How quaint.”
“Do you have anything appropriate to wear Mrs Darcy or do we need to visit Bond street beforehand?”
“Yes, my aunt Gardiner practically forced upon me an outrageously expensive evening gown for that specific purpose. It is in my trousseau as I relented. My aunt is a frequent visitor of the theatre, I supposed she knew best.”
“They have a box then?”
Mr Darcy had not spent much time in the Gardiner's company and knew very little of Mrs Bennet's brother.
“No. It is possible to attend without a private box Mr Darcy. They hire one for the occasion.”
Elizabeth was feeling a bit miffed about what she perceived as condescension towards her favourite relations. A visit to Gracechurch street, talking to her aunt and playing with her cousins, would have set her up nicely and starved the boredom entirely away.
“Good, I saw that Macbeth is set up for tonight and I would like to attend. Sara Siddons is rumoured to retire very soon and I would like you to experience her work before it is too late. She is performing tonight at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden, it is bound to be a throng which will suit our purpose.”
Elizabeth might not have had a tragedy in mind when she suggested the theatre but as she was loathed to admit to her preference for the comedies, she was excited for the opportunity to see the much-appraised actress in the flesh.

 

The Darcys' had no more than entered the door of Theatre Royal before they were assaulted by a curious matron of the ton.
“Mr Darcy, how nice to see you. You must introduce me to the paragon of beauty that induced you into a mésalliance.”
Darcy performed the mandatory introductions between Elizabeth and Lady Marley, the wife of a well to do baron with three unmarried daughters.
“My beauty he could well withstand, Lady Marley. I believe it must have been the competition that spurred him into action.”
“How exciting! To have more than one gentleman vying for your attention, do I know this rival?”
“I doubt it. He was the heir to my father's estate.”
“Was he handsome as well?”
“No, not at all. I could not pass on Mr Darcy’s tall, dark and handsome features, who would? He is such a distinguished gentleman.”
Elizabeth looked up at Darcy and smiled radiantly.
“That odious ma...”

Elizabeth interrupted Mr Darcy, unceremoniously. “Come now Mr Darcy, no need to turn green-eyed. I chose you, after all.”
Mr Darcy pulled his wife aside and whispered fervently into her ear.
“What are you trying to accomplish, Elizabeth? They will perceive me as a lovesick mooncalf.”
“Would that not be preferable to be the fool that was trapped by a country bumpkin? You have to feed the gossips a truth that put you in the best light or they will conjecture up something much more dreadful. What will it be Mr Darcy? What kind of fool do you prefer to be?”
Darcy only clenched his jaw and would probably have opted for neither, had he felt that it was an option to be had. Instead, he gave Elizabeth a brilliant smile and guided her past the first clusters of people with his hand on the small of her back, protectively. Unfortunately, that positioned him a little behind his wife and he was soon grabbed by the elbow by one of his old nemesis.
Elizabeth did not immediately notice that her husband was missing but a familiar, shrill voice made her turn.
Elizabeth put her dainty hand around Mr Darcy's free elbow.
“What, my love?”
Peering innocently up into Mr Darcy's blue eyes. The lady on the other side huffed indignantly.
“Oh, I beg you to pardon me. I did not see you there... Are you having a pleasant evening, Miss Bingley?”
“It would have been better if the Theatre Royal had been more discerning in who they admitted through the door. It seems every country bumpkin are allowed entrance theses days.”
Miss Bingley ended her jib with a smirk towards a cluster of tittering ladies, obviously a part of her entourage for the evening.
“How absolutely horrible, Miss Bingley. If you encounter one, be sure to point her out to me. One would not like to caught speaking to one if it can at all be helped... Shall we Mr Darcy?”
Elizabeth lead Darcy towards the stairs and ascended in direction of the Darcy box. Leaving a perplexed Miss Bingley behind.
“Thank you for rescuing me, Mrs Darcy.”
“Oh, think nothing of it... You rescued me from a lifetime of misery with Mr Collins. It is only fair I provide some kind of service to repay you. I had not anticipated there would be so many clinging ladies though. I am afraid I will be quite exhausted by the end of the evening and longing for the quietude of Pemberley.”
“I would not mind regrouping to Pemberley.”
Mr Darcy pronounced with a surge of hope in his voice. Elizabeth chuckled.
“Lady Matlock would have your hide if you failed to introduce me to the ton and I presume you are rather fond of your skin as it is?”
Darcy only frowned and guided his wife into the Darcy box.
He had utterly forgot his Matlock relations, they were probably expecting a visit before they removed from town.
His respite into the world of reflection was short-lived. The couple had drawn considerable interest and every soul with the slightest connection to himself made a detour to their box.
He made the introductions but otherwise kept silently in the background, as he preferred, and learned that Elizabeth could fend for herself without any input from him. What a relief.
***
The door-hammer on Darcy House barely had a minute peace after their theatre appearance. The curiosity surrounding the new Mrs Darcy surpassed even Mr Darcy's pessimistic prediction.
The calls had to be reciprocated which took another few days without visiting their Matlock relations.
After a gruelling day of morning calls, followed by a shopping excursion to Bond Street, Mr Darcy was ready to throw in the towel and make a hasty retreat to Pemberley's tranquil woods.
It was not to be as someone was slamming the Darcy House lion-head hammer against the innocent door.
Darcy had little time to ponder who could be disturbing them at this late hour in the evening when his uncle’s voice boomed across the hallway.
“Where is my nephew?”
“In the library, my Lord.”
Unfortunately, his footsteps seemed to be followed by several others.
“Ha, I found them, Aubrey, they are in the library reading. Why am I not surprised...”
His Lordship was followed by his wife Lady Aubrey and both his sons.
Elizabeth sprung up from her chair and curtsied deeply to greet their exalted guests.
“May I present my wife, Elizabeth Darcy, Lord Matlock.”
“You certainly may and long overdue it is. What can you mean by shuttling her around town and not come to see your nearest relations, Darcy? I am most put out.”
“I had a letter, and later a visit from aunt Catherine, proclaiming me denounced by all my family. I am glad to see I was erroneous.”
Elizabeth gasped. She had been the main recipient of Lady Catherine’s rant at Longbourn but she had not been allowed to read the letter. She had thought the lady was exaggerating the impact a marriage to herself would procure as the world, in general, seemed to have more sense. Perhaps she had been mistaken. She knew little of the upper crust as she had lived a sheltered life at Longbourn, not venturing to town very often and mingled with the wrong crowd when she did.
Her introduction to the ton had so far gone as well as could be expected, at least, that was what she had thought.
She looked at her husband with a quirked eyebrow and her lips set in a thin line. Unbeknownst to her, her dainty foot was tapping under her hem.
Mr Darcy gave her a lopsided grin and guided her out of the library with a hand on the small of her back.
“Let us proceed to the parlour and order refreshments. I am anticipating a long interrogation.”
Elizabeth gave a short but to the point account of her heritage and upbringing. Mr Darcy explained his need for a wife which was impossible to contradict.
“I wonder if you have some of that brandy left in your study...”
“Yes, Richard. Would you like a tumbler? Montgomery? Uncle?”
Lord Matlock and his eldest son begged off as they had an appointment at White's. The rest of the men left the parlour for the study and the promise of decent brandy while Elizabeth was left to fend for herself against Lady Aubrey who obviously had nothing better to do.
The first question was why she had accepted Mr Darcy’s proposal of marriage and Elizabeth realised the answer: ‘the lesser of two evils’, would probably not be favourably welcomed. She contemplated the issue at hand and answered Lady Aubrey.
“He is a good dancer but he also has a keen mind and he is well-read. I quite enjoy his company.”
Elizabeth realised that it was true, she did enjoy his company. She was comfortable in his presence, even when they were silent and he had this dry sense of humour that you could easily miss if you did not pay him rapt attention.
“You have danced with him?”
“Yes, at Mr Bingley’s ball, the day before we got engaged, we shared the supper set and we have danced at small parties during our engagement period.”
“I was under the impression that Darcy was not fond of dancing...”
“It is not the dancing he dislikes, it is conversing with someone he is not particularly acquainted with that he deems challenging.”
***
Meanwhile, in the study, Darcy was faring no better.
“So, Darcy, you have finally taken an arrow to your knee. I thought you wanted to avoid the parson’s trap and let Georgiana carry your responsibility of producing an heir. She is my responsibility too you know and it will depend entirely on who she marries if that plan would have any merit.”
“Yes, well, one never knows. Pemberley might still be left to Georgiana’s offspring but I like to keep my options open.”
“You have a platonic marriage?” Richard looked incredulous at his cousin.
“Yes, we have made a convenient arrangement that suits us both.”
“Really? You have that little fireball under your roof and you do not... Well, I have never...”
Richard was rarely suffering from lack of words but this seemed to be such an occasion.
“Do you, hmm, have a problem in that area, Darcy?”
“Certainly not! For your information, I have consummated the marriage.”
“So you have tested the goods, so to speak?”
“Well, yes. We were a little concerned that aunt Catherine might try to annul the marriage...”
“Aunt Catherine? She will be pleased to have been of use to you, I am sure.”
Darcy glared at his cousin who tattled along undeterred.
“Tell me, Darcy. Why did you marry the little minx if not to secure the future of Pemberley? You could have married almost anyone of the ladies of the ton and gotten a handsome dowry as well.”
“I wanted to choose someone of my own liking that it would not be a punishment to spend an evening alone with. In addition, she comes with perks like scaring off all the fawning, cloying ladies I despise so much.”
“Ergo, you like her but is she not a tad on the small side for a guard?”
“You should see her tackle aunt Catherine and Miss Bingley, you would not so easily dismiss her. She has a keen mind that outwits everyone she encounters, including me...”
Richard fell into deep thought that was not interrupted before his mother came to ask him to escort her home and to warn Darcy there was going to be a ball on Twelfth Night which he was expected to attend.
Darcy sighed, their journey to Pemberley would be delayed, yet again.

***

The Matlock, Twelfth Night Ball was the event to attend. A masquerade (which Darcy abhorred) with parlour games (which Darcy detested) and dancing (which Darcy could stomach under certain conditions).
Elizabeth was ecstatically looking forward to dress up, play games and dance until dawn. Darcy was mourning the loss of not being able to cut the night short as was his custom. His mood soured by each day lost between himself and the dreaded event.
It was an opportunity for the exhibitionists and voyeurs to have free rein on their proclivities. An event where one could speak one’s mind without repercussions. Flirt and fondle without inhibition, to say Darcy dreaded the event would be a gross understatement. In addition, he had a wife to look after as well...
Elizabeth, in a moment of sarcastic pique, had chosen the costumes and they were portraying Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. A tad macabre perhaps but his wife had insisted, claiming that the majority of the ladies in attendance would like to see her beheaded.
Darcy was not opposed to the characters themselves but he had seen Elizabeth’s costume. A black gown with a tight-fitting corset that left nothing to the imagination. He conjectured all sorts of catastrophic events in its wake but found it difficult to warn her off lest she get the wrong impression and believe it was himself that thought her alluring...
***
Mr and Mrs Darcy entered the Matlock ballroom to an abundance of gasps, oh's and ah's.
An uncharacteristic giggle escaped Elizabeth.
“I do not believe we could have made a greater entrance if I had carried my head under my arm.”
Darcy fought a smile but uttered:
“I would have preferred to have entered with much less notice.”
“I will let you have your way for the rest of the winter since you indulged me in this. I promise to make it up to you by languishing in the Pemberley library until spring. One evening in exchange for months of quiet solitude, a fair trade I would say...”
Mr Darcy's smile broke his countenance although he could hear his quickened pulse throbbing in his ears.
The first set was about to start. They were guided to the top of the line by Lady Aubrey who was well aware of their identity and so was everybody else by the look of it, despite their costumes and masked countenances.

It was a waltz, first introduced at Almack's club in June the previous year. Far be it for Lady Aubrey to let a new trend pass her by. Although Almack’s was not the first society ball to feature the waltz, the Marchioness of Abercorn had introduced the scandalous dance as early as 1801 but Almack’s made it fashionable, despite the public protests.

Darcy's lightness of foot and Elizabeth’s natural grace drew envious gazes and jealous remarks.

“Look, Mr Darcy is smiling. The country bumpkin has utterly ruined our Mr Darcy.”
“Yes, he is quite irrevocably gone.”
“Such a shame...” Their utterances was followed by covetous sighs.

The waltz ended and the couple rescued two glasses of Champagne from their perched position on a silver tray. Elizabeth had never tasted Champagne before and she was quite delighted.

***

Richard approach but instead of keeping Darcy accompanied, he offered Elizabeth his hand for the second set. Darcy was quite put out but he could hardly refuse, at least, he had secured the supper set. Saving him from unpalatable company while dining.
Accosted by several matrons and maidens, intent on gossip added to his cantankerous mood. Exactly the circumstances he had married to avoid.
Thankfully, Richard joined him by the third set. Darcy searched the dance-floor, surprised to see that Elizabeth was dancing but not with Montgomery, the eldest of the Matlock sons, as he would have guessed.
The Matlock boys had a knife to their throats, held by the dainty Lady Aubrey.
Darcy's entrance to the married state had by no means lessened her coercion of her two bachelor sons to hunt for a wife which is why Montgomery was dancing with a debutant and not the safe Mrs Darcy.

Darcy did not recognize the gentleman she was dancing with, neither the second nor the third...
Finally, it was time for the supper set and the Minuet. His disposition improved remarkably during the meal. He must have been hungry...

***

When the supper ended, the game of Sardines were announced and Marie Antoinette was chosen as the first to hide. Elizabeth was elated by the assignment and whispered to Darcy that he must play too which earned her a scoff for an answer. Mr Darcy did not play parlour games.

***

A half an hour passed with no sign of Elizabeth. About twenty guests had opted to play and Darcy thought they must all have found her by now. He strolled towards the hallway when he was met by a subdued Elizabeth.

“Could we go home, please? I am feeling a little tired.”

Darcy could hardly believe his ears. Fearing that he would have to endure the ball until the break of dawn, to end the night an hour past midnight was like a belated Christmas present.

“Certainly my dear, let me inform my aunt of our departure.”

“Yes, I would like to pay her my compliments as well.”

Elizabeth lay her hand on Mr Darcy's arm and went in search of their aunt. When they found her they expressed their gratitude towards the hostess and bade their farewells.

After the cacophony of the ballroom, the carriage was blissfully silent in comparison. Darcy sighed in relief and relaxed against the comfortable seat.

Safely at home, the newlyweds uttered polite goodnights and went to their separate chambers.

Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief when she closed the door to her chambers. She let her maid loosen her corset before she excused her.
Holding on to her composure with immense effort.
As soon as the maid departed, Elizabeth collapsed down in her chair, buried her head in her hands and let her tears fall freely.

***

Darcy had a nagging feeling that he had forgotten something. He checked his watch fob, signet ring and his money clip but nothing was missing.
Was it something he had heard, no, he had not listened to any other than Richard, his aunt and Elizabeth...
Right, she had behaved strangely after the game. Perhaps he should have asked her if something was amiss?
Darcy eyed the connecting door to Elizabeth’s chamber with trepidation. He had not passed the threshold since his wedding night, two weeks prior. It was an unpronounced rule between them that they would knock on the door in the hallway and leave the connecting door unused.
He loathed the thought of venturing out in the hallway in his shirtsleeves and breeches, even with a robe to cover himself. The gossip that would ensue should a servant see him approach his wife by the door in the hallway opposed to the connecting door would surely be unflattering and unpalatable.
He decided to be brave and knock. She was most likely asleep...

Elizabeth heard the faint knock but pretended she did not. He would surely go away if she did not answer.
Another soft knock was followed by the handle turning.

***

Darcy opened a slight crack in the door when no one answered his knock. He expected to find his wife fast asleep but instead, she was sitting hunched down by the fire. Still in her many layers of petticoats and the loosened stays hanging from her torso. Her head was buried in her hands while she breathed raggedly and sniffed suspiciously.

“Elizabeth?”

She stood up and went to the window with her back turned to him. Wiping her face with the back of her hand.
She looked so small and defeated.

Darcy had some experience with crying young ladies after his sister near disaster last summer. He went to Elizabeth, turned her so she faced him and enveloped her in his arms. She did not push him away but lay her head against his chest. He rested his chin on the top of her head, held her tight and waited for her to speak.

“I loathe Sardines.”

“I thought you liked parlour games.”

“I do but only when I play them with children, adults are less fun.”

“What happened?”

“I chose the anteroom because it is not a room you would think of first and it was spacious since there were so many players but the lighting was poor.”

“Hmm...”

“It was not necessary to stand so close to me and...”

Darcy felt Elizabeth stiffen in his arms.

“A man, I hesitate to call him gentleman because then he would not have done such a thing. He touched my cushioned seating arrangement, the one on my person, with his hand.”

Darcy realised something important, Elizabeth used sarcasm when she was uncomfortable.

“Who?”

“I do not know, it was too dark and too cramped but I believe he will be limping because I tread on his toes with my heel, forcefully...”

“Good!
I am sorry Elizabeth. I should have warned you that this kind of events has some unpleasant entailments. The masquerade seems to bring out the worst traits in the participants characters. They seem to believe that covering their countenance with a masque and donning some ridiculous costume excuse their behaviour, it does not...”

“Do you often play Sardines at Longbourn?”

“No, only at Christmas when the Gardiners and their children come to visit.”

“The Gardiners are your aunt and uncle from town?”

“Yes, the ones who live in Gracechurch Street...”

“What say you about paying them a visit on the morrow?”

“I would like that very much.”

“Would you mind very much if we left for Pemberley the day after? I have had enough of town for a while.”

“No, I would like that as well. Town has lost its allure but will it not be difficult to travel? I guess there might be snow on the roads further north...”

“Yes, it would not surprise me but we will take it slow and stay an extra day or two at the Inn if the weather demands it. The journey will be long but I promise that Pemberley will be worth the effort.”

Elizabeth stirred and Darcy had to release her.

“Thank you! I will be looking forward to see my relations and Pemberley, of course.”

“Good.”

An awkward silence ensued. It was like being open and honest were easier when not facing each other.
Darcy stood indecisive for a few moments before he bid his wife goodnight and retreated to the master’s chamber. Feeling a little miffed that Pemberley had come second to Mrs Bennet’s brother. Not that he had anything against the fellow, he had made a decent impression at their wedding. He reminded himself that Elizabeth had not yet seen Pemberley, she had no reason to anticipate the splendour of their country home.

***

Pulling up at the Gardiners large and well-kept home, Darcy tried to conceal his surprise. Gardiner must do well for himself if his house was anything to go by.
A manservant opened the door and invited them into a light and spacious hall.
While they were divesting themselves of their outerwear, the Gardiners emerged.

“Lizzy! How lovely to see you. Mr Darcy, welcome to our home.”

Mrs Gardiner was a lovely lady of fashion, albeit a few years older than himself.

“Come on Lizzy, no need to act so prudish just because you have married.”

Uncle Gardiner pulled Elizabeth into a bear hug while Mrs Gardiner stood primly beside them with an indulgent look upon her countenance.

They were led into a comfortable parlour and offered refreshments when a brood of children stumbled through the door.

“Lizzy!”

The children scrambled to their favourite cousin and almost fought to climb up into her lap.

“Behave, please. I have a hug for each and every one of you,” Elizabeth admonished and the children obeyed with the exception of the youngest boy who utilised the free passage. With determination, he climbed up on Lizzy's lap, winded his tiny arms around her neck, locked his hands together and gave Lizzy a sloppy kiss on the cheek. The smug look he sent his siblings was hilarious.
Elizabeth laughed gaily and tried to pry his arms from her neck but the little troublemaker was not complying.

“Lucas, let the others have their turn.”

The little rascal only petted Lizzy's cheek on the opposite side of himself and rested his head on her shoulder. One thumb found its way into his mouth while the other arm still clung to Elizabeth’s neck.

Darcy silently wondered if his wife might feel a little bit choked by the fierce grip around her neck but she just laughed and hauled the other three children in for hug on the indicated cheek.

“Shall I take Lucas, Elizabeth?” Mrs Gardiner offered.

“No, thank you. It will be a long time until we see each other again so I am of a mind to indulge him.”

“Are you not staying Lizzy?”

The oldest girl inquired.

“No, I came to say goodbye. You know I have married and we are leaving on the morrow. I have not seen my new home yet so it will be like an adventure.”

The three oldest children turned towards Mr Darcy with curious looks.

“Mr Darcy, may I introduce you to my children?”

“Certainly, Mr Gardiner.”

“Children, this is cousin Elizabeth’s husband, Mr Darcy. Mr Darcy, my eldest daughter Millie, my eldest son Edward, my youngest daughter Emilia and my youngest son Lucas.”

The children curtsied and bowed, with the exception of the youngest so comfortably situated on his wife lap. The children were obviously able to behave with decorum when needed.

A maid brought the tray with refreshments and Mrs Gardiner busied herself with preparing the tea while chatting with Elizabeth about the Matlock ball. To Darcy's surprise, the unpleasantness during the Sardines was not mentioned. Elizabeth was evidently a private person like himself.

All in all, it was a pleasant visit.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4 The Inconvenience of Travel

The first day of their journey north was uneventful with dry roads and they managed to travel over sixty miles before the twilight hour made travelling unsafe.
They spent their first night in Hardingstone at the White Rose Inn, enjoying a private dining room and separate chambers. There seemed to be few other travellers on the road at this time of year and they had a quiet, restful night.
The second day of travel was not quite as successful as their first but they managed to conquer nearly fifty miles of no longer dry roads but they had not encountered any snow yet and they had barely fifty miles to go. Darcy was quietly optimistic that they were going to reach Pemberley in three days which was very good for winter travels.
At the Whitwick Inn, came their journeys first conundrum. It was a small establishment but the cleanliness, good food and service which made it one of Darcy's favourite places to lodge.
A nearby wedding had filled the Inn to the brim save for one expensive room. Funds was not an object to Darcy but the sleeping arrangements were. He went outside and found his wife pacing the courtyard.
“There is a problem at the Inn.”
“Please, do not say they do not have any vacancies? It is getting rather cold... Is it far to the next Inn?”
“They have one room... The next Inn is about 9 miles from here which will take another two hours in the dark with the wet and rutty roads.”
Elizabeth chuckled.
“What a relief, we will take the one room.”
“Are you sure you will be comfortable?”
“I am certain,” Elizabeth pronounced with conviction.
“I am used to sharing with my sister, you know. I must warn you though, I am prone to kick if someone invades my space or so I am told...”
“Right. You would not prefer that I sleep on the couch?”
“Surely not, Mr Darcy. You are as much deserving of a comfortable bed as I, after so many hours in the carriage. Think nothing of it, I do not.”
There was no private dining room to be had at the Whitwick Inn. The common room was crowded but it was their only option while their room was being readied.
Elizabeth did not seem uncomfortable with her surroundings which made Darcy relax as well.
Elizabeth appeared to get along with everyone she met. Chatting amicably with an old lady on their neighbouring table and made the maid at their table blush with contentment at the compliment she paid her dainty necklace. It turned out to be her most prized possession. A gift from her beau and the maid was very proud of the insignificant piece.
Darcy tried to remember if he had gifted Elizabeth any jewellery.
He had offered her a wedding band on their wedding day, anything less would have been scandalous.
She had been adorned with family heirlooms on their trip to the theatre and the Matlock ball but he wondered if he had mentioned that they were hers, not a loan from the family vault.
She was wearing her garnet cross that he knew had been a gift from her father on her fifteenth birthday and her wedding band. Probably sensible in their current surroundings, not to flaunt their wealth. If she had any more bijouterie in her possession...
***
At ten o’clock, the Darcys’ retired to their room. Abashedly changed into their sleeping attire behind the screen and climbed into bed.
Although Elizabeth had rested her head on Darcy's shoulder in the carriage, it apparently became very important not to touch him on any surface. She lay on her side at the edge of the bed, stiff and uncomfortable.
Darcy lay down on his back, careful not to take up any space on the other half of the smallish sized bed.
It would be fair to say that sleep did not come easy to the two tense occupants of the bed but they did eventually succumb.
***
Elizabeth awoke bright and early, that is to say, it was not bright at all since it was predawn. Someone was petting her back but she could not move to wave the offender off.
Her mind cleared a bit and she grew conscious that she was entrapped in arms and legs. One of the arms was stroking her back while something was breathing heavily in her ear.
She pried open her eyes and stared directly into her husband's throat. ‘How embarrassing. Mr Darcy was obviously very affectionate in his sleep, perhaps he had a lost love he was cuddling in his sleep? The thought was disturbing. Might Mr Darcy's reluctance to marry be anchored in a lady he could not have? A married lady or a young and beautiful maiden that had died young, taking his heart with her into the beyond? How tragic! She had to find out but she could not ask him flat out.’
Darcy stirred and Elizabeth hastily closed her eyes, forcing herself to relax, feigning sleep. It was the best she could come up with on such short notice.
Not a splendid idea as it turned out. She should have tried to extract herself before he started to kiss her ear and proceed to scatter kisses down her neck and now his hand was roaming to her front...
Elizabeth sighed and Darcy startled. Blinking furiously he scooted away, while Elizabeth pretended to sleep.
“I am sorry,” he whispered but Elizabeth continued her charade.
Darcy rose and dressed before he awoke his wife. Elizabeth stretched, yawned and padded behind the screen in her warm flannel nightgown, to change for the day. She did not need the help of a maid as she had decided to forgo her stays while they travelled, letting comfort rule over her vanity.
***
They broke their fast in their room and set out for Pemberley at first light which was strictly necessary should they have any chance of reaching Pemberley before nightfall...
Elizabeth had a mission, making Darcy tell her of his love lost and better yet, she had a scheme to accomplish it.
Nonchalantly, she pulled the volume she had made sure would be at hand in her reticule, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Darcy had once pronounced poetry as the food of love but Elizabeth thought Shakespeare’s tragedy was an excellent stimulus to discuss love.
She busied herself with the book, mustering up her courage before questioning her husband.

“I cannot decide if Romeo is romantic or ridiculous, what is your opinion on the matter?”

“Hmm, I would not call his suicide romantic but I guess love makes fools of us all.”

“Have you ever been in love?” Elizabeth asked innocently.

“No, I cannot say that I have. I have been attracted and infatuated but not truly in love...”

‘There went her hypothesis out the window. Of course, attraction would probably suffice...’

“Have your heart been touched?”

“What?” Somehow she had not anticipated him to reciprocate her question.

“Have you been in love, Elizabeth?”

“Not that I know of...”

“I believe you would have known.”

“Yes. I have not felt any penchant for drinking poison so I guess not.”

Elizabeth sighed wistfully and directed her attention back to her book.
‘She would have liked to be in love, to experience the flutters of her heart she had so often read about. It was too late now, married as she was...’

“It is starting to snow, it is just a light drizzle. Let us hope it stays that way...”

Elizabeth looked up from her book. It had indeed started to snow.
Elizabeth usually loved the snow but at this moment she would have preferred if it had waited until they had reached her new home. She had never travelled this far before, with what felt like endless days in the carriage.
Some unmentionable parts of her was beginning to feel uncomfortable, taking the brunt of the rutted roads. On their third day of travel, the landscape looked no different from any other terrain she had seen...

Snow was not to be trifled with when riding in a carriage. It could get slippery and make the horses, the carriage or both skid off the road. Heavy snow could halt their progress entirely, forcing them to take shelter at an Inn for days.

***

They had passed Derby with a few miles when the carriage stopped and the coachman came knocking on the door, asking for a word with Mr Darcy.

Mr Darcy ventured outside and the news was not good. The snow lay heavy on the road and the horses tired faster, trudging through the wet snow. It became apparent that they would not reach Pemberley on this day. They decided to make the Inn at Belper their designation for the day.

As they reached the front of the Inn at Belper, it was obvious that they were not the only ones who had been stranded by the weather.
Mr Darcy went to inquire about the possibility to let a room but there were none to be had.

Darcy stroked his chin pensively before he addressed Elizabeth.

“I have an acquaintance in the area, Lord Duffield. If he is at home, I am sure he would not mind an unannounced visit, if we will be equally pleased remains to be seen.”

“Why, is he uncouth or does he have unmarried sisters he has tried to foist upon you?”

“No, he is merely boisterous and thirsty. I have not seen him much since my university days, he might have grown out of it. He does have an older sister but she is a confirmed spinster.”

“Good, let us head there Fitzwilliam. Better to snow in at a house than in a carriage.”

“Right. I will notify James of our new direction. We have to turn and go back a couple of miles.”

***

Lord Duffield was pleased to see them and they were made to feel very welcome despite their lack of invitation.
He lived with an older, unmarried sister that seemed especially delighted for the additional female company, not that she did not have other guests present as they were currently having a party of friends staying.

The Lord made profuse excuses for not having any spare rooms left with adjoining doors and jested that the newlyweds might like to share but they assured him that separate rooms would suit them nicely.

Elizabeth was relieved that she would not have to share a chamber with her husband.
She was no closer to unravel the mystery about his dream.
Somehow the thought of him being attracted to a lady, who could be anyone, even a lady she had met was more painful than a distant love lost.

***

The Darcys spent an entertaining evening with the Duffield’s and their friends and retired contended.

Elizabeth believed that she had slept only a few moments when she was awakened by footsteps outside her door. They stopped abruptly, a few paces down from her door and seemingly vanished into thin air as she could not hear a door open or close. She drifted back to sleep, thinking a servant must have reached a carpeted area which would explain the lack of continuation of the footsteps. She had only slept a few minutes when another set of footsteps passed her door in the opposite direction. This time the footsteps were followed by a bone-chilling squeaking noise. Elizabeth started to feel uncomfortable, she did not believe in ghosts or so she had thought but she hid under the cover to be on the safe side.

A few minutes later there was a faint knock on her door. It was so faint that Elizabeth thought it likely that it was, in fact, a ghost.
A second knock with a bit more force could be heard and Elizabeth chided herself. There was no ghost, it was probably her husband who had come to inquire about something.

Elizabeth pulled on her robe, padded to the door and opened it slightly.
It was not her husband outside the door, neither was it a ghost. Lord Duffield was standing with a bottle of wine in one hand and two glasses in the other.

“Our chamber discussion earlier made me decided to come and offer you my services.”

The Lord bowed gallantly but Elizabeth was in no mood for wine and did not need any services, sleep would suffice.

“I thank you, no,” she said and tried to close the door but it halted at the Lord's foot.

“I wondered if the stoic Mr Darcy had trouble, let us say, rising to the occasion?”

Elizabeth was getting annoyed, tired and travel-worn as she was.

“I doubt Mr Darcy has any interest of rising as it is in the middle of the night and any sound person should be asleep.
Goodnight, Lord Duffield.”

Elizabeth did not bother to keep her voice down as the Lord’s foot was still preventing her from closing the door.
A swift thought entered her mind and instead of trying to close the door, she opened it wide and skipped passed the Lord, out into the hallway.

“Could you point me in the direction of my husband’s quarters.”

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow at the Lord. When no answer was forthcoming she turned to walk away and find a servant to aid her but the Lord grabbed her elbow.

“Unhand me at once or I will scream until I awaken the dead.”

“What is the meaning of this,” a well-known baritone inquired.

“Lord Duffield came to offer me his services but he seems to wilfully misunderstand my refusals.”

Elizabeth went to her husband, grabbed his arm and clung to it like the worst cloying lady she knew. She was turning into Caroline Bingley.

“Do you want a glass of wine, Elizabeth?”

“No, thank you. I just want to sleep but I am starting to wonder if this place is haunted because I have heard footsteps all night and they sometimes vanish into thin air...”

Elizabeth looked intensely at her husband and he seemed to grasp her meaning but he addressed the Lord before placated his wife.

“It seems that we are poor company this night, Lord Duffield. My wife and I are exhausted from our travels. I hope you can forgive our transgression and let us retire?”

“Certainly, Darcy. Do not let me keep your lovely wife from getting her beauty sleep.”

Darcy bowed and steered his wife into her chambers.

“Do not dare to leave me here alone,” Elizabeth admonished.

“I do not intend to,” Mr Darcy assured his wife.

Mr and Mrs Darcy crept under the covers in a futile attempt to get a few hours of sleep. Mr Darcy made sure his person did not advance over the imaginary line that split their bed into two sleeping areas. Elizabeth felt vexed although she had no reason to but if there ever was a night she had needed the comfort of being held. It was this night...

“He put his foot in the door so I could not close it.”

“Lord Duffield or the ghost?”

Smack! One of the embroidered cushions landed squarely on Mr Darcy's countenance.

“What did you do that for?” he asked indignantly.

“You were mocking me!”

“I was trying to lighten the mood!”

Elizabeth harrumphed and turned her back on the infuriating Mr Darcy. ‘He had not defended her against Lord Duffield, not really. Politely excusing them was not a defence it was deference. Elizabeth comforted her self that it was probably Mr Darcy's turn to be vexed though. Jane had often complained to Elizabeth about her tendency to gravitate towards heat in her sleep. He was most likely going to wake up at the edge of the bed, clutching the nightstand to keep himself from falling out. The thought was humorous but not enough to quell her disappointment.

“You could have defended me, he was importuning me.”

“And had us evicted on our hindquarters out into the snow? I think not...”

‘Darcy made some sense but Elizabeth was not particularly impressed with the upper éclat.’

“Do all the members of the upper crust behave so poorly or is it limited to your friends?”

Darcy did not deign to answer and turned his back on Elizabeth. He lay awake pondering his wife’s last comment.
Mr Darcy had travelled in these circles all of his life. The behaviour did not shock him as he was used to the treachery and had learnt how to manage.

‘What complaint could she have, considering her relations? Although the Gardiner relations seemed proper and no one could accuse Jane of ill manners but the mother and younger sisters were positively wild. Well, perhaps not Mary... She usually had her nose in a book and when she did speak, she quoted the bible or Fordyce’s sermons. All he had to accuse her of was playing the piano very ill but their father! What a lackadaisical parent, he did nothing to curb his wife or daughters exuberant behaviour but despite his shortcomings as a father, he rather liked Mr Bennet's witty intellect.
Darcy wondered how he would act if was outnumbered by six unruly females...
The image of nearly half a dozen small, curly-haired Elizabeths, running rampant in his garden, graced his inner eye.
He could not quite muster to feel the abhorrence the picture should provide but then again, he was not having any children or was he...’

Elizabeth’s thoughts went in another direction entirely. She had scolded when she should have shown gratitude but the gentleman in question was too infuriating to remember one's manners...

***

Elizabeth awoke the next morning, clinging to the nightstand. Darcy lay sprawled behind her with a hand on her hip as to hinder her escape. Elizabeth did not bother to move stealthily and his hand landed on the mattress with a thud when she arose, jolting him awake.
A quiet knock was heard from the servants’ entrance and Elizabeth bade her maid entered but she was immediately sent on an errand by her husband.

“Linney, send for Grey, I will dress here.”

“Yes, Sir!”

The maid scurried out to do the Masters bidding, making Elizabeth scoff internally. The mistress was obviously forgotten.
Elizabeth dressed herself in her dressing room. Well, she made an attempt but forgoing stays in this exalted company would not do.
She would have to utilize the hands-on offer, re-entering her chamber in her layers of petticoats.

“Fitzwilliam! Would you be so kind and lace me up? I seem to have misplaced my maid...”

“Certainly, my dear.”

He had not taken her hint but at least he dutifully performed the necessary. She could not fault his skills as a lady's maid.

Elizabeth was fully dressed by the time Linney was back with Grey, Mr Darcy's valet. The men disappeared into the dressing room but Elizabeth could not force herself to venture to the breakfast parlour.
Priding herself of courage at every attempt of intimidation, she found herself to be exactly that, timid.

Elizabeth shadowed her husband downstairs to break their fast. Glancing out the windows to assess if the weather would permit them to leave.
It was snowing, large rags of the white frozen water fell from the skies. They were obviously not leaving today.
Elizabeth sighed and provided herself amply from the delicacies on offer, filled a plate for her husband and seated herself beside him.
Darcy was in a pensive mood and Elizabeth did not know how to bring him out of it.

Lord Duffield entered the room and asked for a moment of privacy with Mr Darcy in his study, he excused himself and followed the Lord of the manor.
Mr Darcy closed the door to the study and sat down on the chair he was offered, in front of Lord Duffield's desk.

One might suspect that the staid and respectable Mr Darcy would have a scolding prepared for his long-time friend but that would prove a little difficult in this instance.
Lord Duffield was one of the few men who had witnessed Darcy's initiation and short sojourn into debauchery. It had ended after his first year at Cambridge when the possibility that he had fathered a child had been proven untrue but it could have been his had not a prominent feature of the child belied the fact. It could have been Lord Duffield’s as well but he had taken the fright with less concern than Darcy.
It had been a lesson hard learned that he had kept paying for in the years to come.
Wickham had used it to blackmail him against his father. Making it impossible for Darcy to share his concerns about that profligate's ways, with the one man who could have done something to stop it.

At the moment, Mr Darcy was worried that if he reproached Lord Duffield, Lord Duffield would call him out on his hypocrisy. That he had since then, held himself at an exceptional high level of propriety would not matter to his Lordship.

“I owe you an apology, Mr Darcy, for the little misunderstanding with your wife last evening.”

Darcy did not answer immediately and Lord Duffield continued.

“You, yourself must admit that to an outsider your eagerness for separate bedrooms, despite being recently married, was easy to misconstrue. The general lack of warmth between the two of you, made it appear like yours was a marriage of convenience at best. Perhaps you were trapped, Darcy? Nothing to be ashamed about, it happens to the best of men... Your wife seemed like a feisty little thing that I would not put past a little scheming.”

“Regardless of the state of our marriage, I thought it was polite to wait for the heir and spare to be born before propositioning a lady.”

“Yes, you are quite right and I have offered my apology.”

“Thank you. My wife has lived a sheltered life and she is not accustomed to the depravity of the ton. I beg you to not importune her any further.
We will not be needing the extra bedroom, after all. I will be sharing with my wife and for the record. I was not trapped, it was my decision to propose to my wife because she is an extraordinary lady.”

“Well, I never... You are in love with her but your tight instep does not allow you to show it.” Lord Duffield smirked knowingly.

“Excuse me, I need to find my wife.” This was a conversation Mr Darcy was not about to have with Lord Duffield. The thought of explaining the extraordinary circumstances surrounding his marriage to someone so wholly unconnected to him was abhorrent.

“A minute more of your time, if you please.”

“Yes, Lord Duffield.” Darcy halted at the door but did not turn.

“You and your wife are welcome to stay until this blasted snowstorm has passed.”

“Thank you.”

***

Meanwhile, Elizabeth was entertained by the Crawford siblings. Both were charming and worldly, particularly the brother had fabulous story-telling skills and regaled her with anecdotes from their recent visit to an estate called Mansfield Park.
However, the room grew quiet when Mrs Rushworth entered the room and squeezed herself in between Elizabeth and Mr Crawford on the settee. The overfamiliarity betwixt the two was confounding Elizabeth who silently wondered where Mr Rushworth could be...

Mrs Rushworth steadied herself with a hand on Mr Crawford’s thigh and leaned in to whisper something in his ear when Darcy entered without Lord Duffield.
Elizabeth sprang to her feet and met him halfway.

“Mr Darcy, would you like to take a stroll in the garden with me?” She smiled at him while her eyebrows nearly touched her hairline.

“In the snow?” Mr Darcy asked incredulously.

“Yes, well... The paths might not be possible to traverse but perhaps we could assess the condition of the road?”

“I suspect you will go whether I follow you or not so I prefer to keep you under close surveillance, lest you get waylaid by the snow...”

Had Elizabeth been less properly behaved, she might have scoffed or snorted but as it was, she kept her inclinations under good regulation. The challenge in her eyes was unmistakable though, she might be planning a little act of revenge for such a condescending remark.

***

The Darcys strolled leisurely, arm in arm down the linden tree allée of Lord Duffield's estate. Looking ever so content, despite the heavy snowfall.
Their hats were covered in white within a few yards but that did not seem to deter them.

“It does not look promising, does it, Mr Darcy?”

“No. It will be useless to try to reach Pemberley before it stops snowing and then we have to leave some time for the road to be cleared.”

“I wondered, if it is not too much of an imposition on your privacy, that you could sleep in my room tonight? I am not comfortable sleeping alone...” Elizabeth loathe to ask but the alternative was even less palatable.

“I have told Lord Duffield that we will not be needing the extra room and I have asked Grey to move my belongings into your room. It was more convenient because your room was the larger of the two.”

“Thank you. Was the sleeping arrangements all you discussed with Lord Duffield?”

Mr Darcy was one of those infuriating individuals that when he was asked a question he did not want to answer, he said nothing at all. Elizabeth, curiously bent, was none too pleased and added it to her pile of perceived offences of the day.

***

Elizabeth glanced over her right shoulder to gauge if they were sufficiently removed from prying eyes at the manor. Convinced that they could not be seen, she steered Darcy a little closer to the edge of the road, released his arm to brush away the snowflakes on her skirt and genuinely surprised him by pushing him into the drift.
Darcy was seated like a king on his white throne and Elizabeth laughed until she doubled over to clutch her stomach.
Lifting her eyes slightly to gauge his reaction, she could tell that Mr Darcy was not amused. He had his sternest countenance firmly in place.
Elizabeth started to fear that he might have landed on something hard and hurt himself.

“Are you injured?” She inquired with trepidation in her voice.

“Yes,” was the harshly delivered answer and she reached out to aid him to his feet.

He grabbed her hand but instead of rising to his feet, he pulled Elizabeth down, rolled over her and dunked her face with snow.

“No one defeat a Darcy in a snow-fight and live to tell the tale.”

“I am a Darcy!” Elizabeth exclaimed.

“Blast! You are right... Pardon me, madam, let me assist you.”

Darcy rose and brushed the snow off his trousers before gallantly offered to aid his wife.
Elizabeth reached for his outstretched hand but he snatched it away at the last second.

“On second thought, I think not...” He uttered nonchalantly and walked away. He passed several yards before a snowball hit him in the back of his head. Spinning around he could not detect the culprit in the blinding white that surrounded him. Patience won out and when Elizabeth’s curly head emerged from behind a drift of snow, he had his ammunition ready at hand.
Hitting his mark by the form of Elizabeth’s forehead. She screamed and fell backwards.
Darcy ran to her and bent over his prostrate wife, apparently out cold with a faint.

“Elizabeth? I am so...”

The rest of his apology was muffled by the fistfuls of snow that landed on his countenance.

“You little minx, surrender!”

“Never!”

Darcy captured his wife hands and pinned them over her head, hovering menacingly above her.

“Capitulate, yield to the superiority!”

“I think not,” Elizabeth replied primly and kissed his lips. He instantly let go of her hands and she scrambled to her feet and set off down the road towards the manor.

“I declare the first to reach the house, the winner,” Elizabeth cried and broke into a run.

“A gentleman never runs,” Darcy replied dryly and sedately brushed the snow off his person.

Elizabeth squealed which turned into a cry as she slipped on the snow-covered ice and fell on her tail.

Darcy was at her side within a blink of an eye.

“I believe you just claimed that a gentleman never ran.”

“I forgot to mention the exception of emergencies. Are you hurt Elizabeth?”

“No, only my pride and my chances of winning the winter-battle seems slim to none. A pity, I was imagining some rather desirable rewards for the victorious one.”

Darcy heaved his wife to his feet and brushed the snow off her hind side. The slight wince when he wiped her posterior belied her proclamation of being entirely uninjured but he let it rest. Believing they had engaged in enough frolicking for one day.

“Truce?”

“Sure, truce on the condition that you admit it was a stalemate. I would have won if not for this icy patch and you would have won had you not been such well-bred gentleman.”

Darcy acquiesced and escorted his wife back to the house. Lord Duffield’s countenance when the opponents entered his foyer was priceless.

“Have you bathed in the snow?”

“Yes.”

“No.”

“You are dripping all over my carpets.”

“Excuse us, Lord Duffield. We will go to our chamber and change at once.”

“Thank you, Darcy. My butler will appreciate it.”

The chastised couple retired to their room to change out of their sodden attire.

***

Around midday, their party was added by Mr Rushworth with his entourage of attorneys. The Darcys wanted to retreat to their chamber as soon as the mission of Mr Rushworth became apparent. He was seeking a divorce from his wife after she had run away with Mr Crawford...

The room grew even more uncomfortable when it became evident that Mr Crawford was by no means willing to usurp Mr Rushworth's responsibilities in providing for his wife.

Darcy offered his arm to his wife who took it with pleasure.

“Lord Duffield, we will retire to rest before dinner.” Mr Darcy announced before they retreated to their chamber and read quietly until it was time to dress for dinner.

Mr Darcy struggled to focus on his pages as a conundrum was playing in his mind.

***

Mr Rushworth and his attorneys had been invited to stay the night, leaving the dinner party tension-filled and awkward. Mr Rushworth had been placed at the opposite end of his wife and her paramour, surrounded by Mr and Mrs Darcy and their host’s sister.
Mr Darcy decided to address the quandary that had occupied his thoughts.

“I am curious, Mr Rushworth... How were you able to travel here through the heavy snowdrifts? My wife and I inspected the road earlier today and it seemed unsurpassable to me.”

“Yes, the carriage got stuck as we entered the driveway but the main road has been cleared. With a turnpike at every corner, it is as it should be, Mr Darcy.”

Mr Darcy expression darkened as he signalled for a footman to approach him. He gave him some instructions that made the footman scurry away to perform his quest.

Elizabeth was dying to know what had transpired as she sat on the opposite side, just out of earshot with the loquacious Miss Duffield at her side.
By Mr Darcy's countenance, she gathered he was displeased but she had to wait until they retired to figure it out.

***

Mr Darcy was quick to excuse them when the gentlemen joined the ladies after their port and cigars. Pronouncing they had an early start on the morrow which elated Elizabeth as well as arose her curiosity.
She waited until they had reached the chamber before questioning her husband.

“Are we braving the snowdrifts or have you discovered a genie in a lamp to make our carriage fly?”

“My conversation with Mr Rushworth revealed that it is only Lord Duffield's driveway that are impassable. The main road has been cleared. I asked a footman to instruct James and our footmen to clear the rest which means that we can leave for Pemberley on the morrow.”

Elizabeth was so thrilled by the idea of leaving that she impulsively kissed Mr Darcy on the cheek. She immediately realised her blunder and blushed profusely.

“Thank you! I am looking forward to see Pemberley but more importantly, the improvement of the company. I am eager to meet Miss Darcy, I have heard so many wonderful things about her.”

Elizabeth was loathed to admit it but she felt some apprehension as well, in the upcoming meeting with the paragon of virtue that was Mr Darcy's sister...

Chapter Text

Chapter 5 The Inconvenience of Pemberley

 

With the driveway cleared, the Darcys wasted no time in bidding their host and his guests farewell, in their quest to reach Pemberley before darkness fell upon them.

***

The house rose majestically in front of a snow-covered ridge as the carriage approached the portico. Elizabeth chuckled mirthlessly.

“Charlotte was right, you do have reason to be proud.”

“I am just a keeper, charged with preserving Pemberley for the next generations to come.”

‘A thought he would need to contemplate further when he was at leisure to do so. At this moment he was anticipating the reunion with his sister.’

“Modesty, you continue to surprise me, Mr Darcy...” Elizabeth remarked as the carriage came to a halt.

Miss Darcy and Mrs Reynolds were waiting in the entrance hall. Checkered floors in black and white marble lead towards the grand staircase. Elizabeth let her eyes trail the stairs and gasped as they reached the painted ceiling with murals she would later learn was painted by Louis Laguerre.
She almost forgot to greet her new sister and housekeeper.
Miss Darcy was a fully grown but timid girl. Elizabeth immediately sensed that she was exceedingly shy and tried to draw her out but got monosyllable answers in reply.

Darcy had more success and enveloped his sister in a fierce hug, assuring her of how happy he was to see her. Georgiana thawed with her brother’s obvious affection and wished them both joy. Elizabeth felt a strange pang in her heart when she saw the look of pure love Mr Darcy bestowed upon his sister. It was not strange that their platonic marriage did not necessitate such fervent emotion but her heart yearned for such passionate exchanges despite her mind being dead set against it. Her heart did not seem to understand that it would lead to aches and pains rather than pleasures...

Mrs Reynolds was next to congratulate them and she did so with warm sincerity. As they had been unable to send a message upfront, she fussed and fretted that they had no bathwater ready but Darcy assured her it was not necessary.

Elizabeth was eager to explore her new home which started with her own luxurious mistress chamber.

The vast mansion was too much to examine in one afternoon. Darcy chose to show Elizabeth the main rooms of the gallery, dining room, breakfast room, parlour and the music room but he saved the best for last, the library.
Two stories of tremendous bliss, by Elizabeth’s standards.
Large windows provided ample natural light and large Chesterfield wing-backs contributed to the comfort. An awestricken Elizabeth let her fingertips brush the spine of the books as she walked along the shelves.
Darcy stood forgotten, just inside the door. He surmised he could have left without her noticing he was gone but he was too amused by the sight before him to leave.
His desk would be stacked with unopened correspondence after being away for so long but the pleasure of watching his wife riveted him to the spot.

“I could stay here for all eternity,” Elizabeth whispered. She had not forgotten his presence which pleased him immensely.

“Yes, I could as well but I believe that we would be missed as soon as supper. I have left Georgiana on her own for far too long...” Darcy did not finish his sentence. Elizabeth had sisters, she would understand.

“I guess that you are trying to deprive me of my newfound treasure, to dress for supper?”

Elizabeth met his eyes with a raised eyebrow and a soft smile. Darcy held out his arm, she accepted it and let herself be towed away from her utopia.

***

Supper was a quiet affair. The inhabitants conversed amongst themselves but it was a far cry from the cacophony of Longbourn.
Elizabeth listened, mostly. Letting the siblings relate their news relatively undisturbed. It was lovely to see them both so at ease, she was almost afraid that they would revert back to their taciturn selves if she broke the spell by intruding.
Georgiana proved to be the sweet girl she had surmised her to be. Suddenly realising that Elizabeth had been excluded from the reunion with her brother, she exerted herself to pull Elizabeth into the conversation.

***

Retiring for the evening rendered a new conundrum, sleeping arrangements. The newlyweds had grown accustomed to sleeping in each other’s arms which were no longer necessary. An awkward goodnight was had at Elizabeth’s door. Darcy turned abruptly afterwards and strode to his door and delved into his room with haste.
Elizabeth was left on the threshold feeling somewhat bereft...

***

Over the coming days and weeks, a strong bond was formed between the two new sisters. Elizabeth had thought her sister Jane was shy but Georgiana was practically paralyzed by fear. Elizabeth had to use all her vivacity combined with her maturity and reason to draw Georgiana out of her shell.
It was no hardship, really. Elizabeth was a proficient talker, she could converse for the both of them and she had the benefit of practice upon her sister Jane.

Slowly, Georgiana began to thaw, revealing little snippets of her personal opinions. What Elizabeth could not fathom was Mr Darcy relying on this young girl’s narrow shoulders, the burden of producing an heir. It was soon obvious to Elizabeth that she would struggle in the marriage mart to a much greater extent than her taciturn brother. She showed a fear of men, in particular, that was disturbing to watch. Elizabeth wondered if something sinister had befallen her new sister, to develop such a pronounced fear and dislike. She would not prod her sister but her brother might share some insights and she decided to confront him.

***

Georgiana had retired early, claiming a headache, so the newlyweds retreated to their favourite jaunt, the library...
A perfect opportunity to ferret out some information. Comfortably settled in opposite wing-backs, Elizabeth thought and forged into the fray.

“Georgiana is terribly shy, is she not?”

“Yes, she has always been timid but it seems to worsen, not lessen with age. She is comfortable in your company, Elizabeth. It pleases me that the two of you have become such good friends in a relatively short time.”

“She does not appear to be as timid of female company but when we happen upon members of the stronger sex she does not bear to look, much less speak at all.”

“She has had an unfortunate experience.”

Elizabeth gasped and her hand flew to her mouth.

“Do not fret, Elizabeth. It was not as dire as your imagination conjecture. I should have said a slight mishap, nothing serious but it has made her doubt her own judgements.”

Elizabeth doubted very much that the incident, whatever it was, had been as slight as Mr Darcy believed. What confounded her more was that a grown man could burden the girl with the responsibility of Pemberley's future...

“Yet you feel it incumbent to let the future of Pemberley rest on her shoulders. I wonder at your reasoning?”

“She is young, she might still grow out of it.”

“I never saw you as one to shirk your responsibilities and delegate them to someone so obviously ill fit, Mr Darcy. Georgiana is six and ten. I doubt her personality will alter from the outer end of the scale, with my tutelage or anybody else’s.”

“You must not always have been so assertive, how were you as six and ten year old girl?”

“Very much as I am now, I suppose. It is not that long ago.”

Mr Darcy was about to scoff when the thought hit him that he did not know Elizabeth’s exact age. She was in her twenties, probably the first half but it had never occurred to him to ask.

“How old are you, Elizabeth?”

“I guess such a rude inquiry might be excused since you are my husband... I am nine and ten but I will be twenty in March.”

Elizabeth added the last remark as a not so subtle hint that her birthday would soon be upon them but Mr Darcy's horrified expression made her wonder if he had the months mixed up and thought they were at the end of March, not the beginning.

“You are practically a child...”

Whatever Elizabeth had expected to come out of Mr Darcy's mouth, that was definitely not it. She rose from her chair and walked calmly and collected, out of the library. Had she not left, she might have proven to him that she was a child by throwing a tantrum that would put little Lucas Gardiner to shame.

***

Mr Darcy had missed an important bit of information a week earlier. Occupied as he was with processing the fact that his wife was closer in age to his sister than himself. He blamed Miss Bingley for droning on and on about Jane Bennet's imminent spinsterhood, making him believe she was, at least, seven and twenty. Elizabeth, he had guessed to be in her mid-twenties, judging her by her intellect alone and he thought Mary was twenty. He did have a vague recollection of something about a birthday coming up. He had thought he had more time...
He did not as Georgiana was making a big deal of the fact at breakfast.

“Congratulations, Lizzy!”

“Thank you, Georgie!”

‘When had his wife and sister come to be on such intimate terms?’

“I have made you a plate for breakfast, Lizzy. I thought twenty slices of toast might be a little in excess so I made you two toasts with twenty forced strawberries from our hothouse.”

Elizabeth laughed with his sister. “Thank you, Georgie. What a relief but I hope you have not added twenty lumps of sugar in my tea?” Elizabeth quirked the eyebrow she so proficiently used to allure her audience.

Georgiana feigned horror by clasping her mouth and widening her eyes before she laughed and put a cup before his wife.

“Fear not, Lizzy. I believe that you are sweet enough as it is so I made you hot chocolate instead with a little sting from the chilli...”

“You are the best sister a lady could ever wish for, Georgie. I love chocolate.”

Elizabeth drank greedily from the steaming cup while Darcy, partially hidden by his newspaper, tried not to watch too closely as her dainty tongue darted out to lick the chocolate off her lush lips. A groan was fought back as he had no present prepared for this momentous occasion. Luckily, there were plenty to choose from in his strongbox but it would have been nice to have something specially designed for the long column of his wife’s neck...

***

Mr Darcy was naturally pleased with the state of his affairs but estate matters, in the winter, could only occupy so much of his time. An hour or two in the morning was quite sufficient to settle the little disputes that arose and pay his bills. He prolonged his sojourn to his study by reading up on new business adventures, he might or might not invest in. In truth, he was trying to look occupied while his wife and sister were busy with lessons and household duties.
Elizabeth was teaching Georgiana how to run a large home which left the ladies with little time to spare towards socialising with the bored master.

Mr Darcy suddenly had an epiphany. What a brilliant idea for a birthday present. He immediately went in search of his wife and sister. With spring just around the corner, it was a sensible request. Locating the ladies was not so easily done though, hidden below in the storage area as they were.

“Good, I found you. I wondered if you have an appropriate riding outfit, Elizabeth?”

Elizabeth brows furrowed and he wondered if she had taken offence at his questioning her possible lack of attire as a degradation of her father.

“Yes, you ordered me one at the modiste, remember?”

‘Ah, so that was her issue, he had completely forgotten.’

“I wondered if you and Georgiana would accompany me when I inspect the land for any damage from the heavy snow this winter. It would provide you with an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the land and an outing in celebration of your birthday. I know of your love for the out of doors and thought it might be welcomed reprieve from the house.”

Elizabeth countenance lit up by the prospect of a longer ramble out of doors.

“Yes, that sounds lovely. What about you Georgiana?”

Elizabeth wiggled her eyebrows, enticing Georgiana to accept which she did with a laugh and a nod.

“I will send a message to the stables to ready three mounts..” Darcy strode in the direction of his housekeeper while the ladies retired to their chambers to change.

A quarter of an hour later, they sauntered arm in arm, out into the courtyard to the awaiting Darcy.
A stable-hand held his white stallion and Georgiana's white mare while he held the reins of a smaller grey mare.

“Come, Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth wondered why she had been allotted the old, docile mare while the siblings had much more spirited mounts until she espied the side-saddle...
She froze mid-stride and quirked a questionable eyebrow at Darcy. The dreaded side-saddle had not entered her mind as an option which it should have had, she acknowledged as much, but Elizabeth was never intimidated by anything and attacked this challenge as she did every other, somewhat haphazardly...
At least, she would be well dressed when she fell off. The deep purple riding habit was exquisite and the hat was secured to her head with several pins.
She continued towards her husband and looked around to see where the mounting block was when Darcy grabbed her waist and lifted her effortlessly up onto the horses back. He put her feet in the stirrups before he mounted his own stallion. Georgiana had mounted without any aid and the three set out on a path towards the northern park.

Mr Darcy peered at his sister. Still painfully shy in the company of strangers but her demeanour at home had changed dramatically. Relaxed and laughing, most likely of something Elizabeth had said or one of her expressive facial expressions that could be quite comedic to study.
The ease between them surpassed his highest expectations, even though it did make himself something of a bystander.
He really should congratulate himself in making such a prudent choice of a wife. Effortlessly taking charge of household matters and the supervision of his sister. She was not overly loquacious in his company and seemed perfectly content with sitting in silence when they read in the evenings. His neighbours, servants and tenants showed her respect. The whole marrying scheme had perhaps freed up a little too much of his time but with spring planting imminent, his excess of leisure time would soon be remedied.

Mr Darcy was not paying attention as the horses crossed a shallow brook. He was preoccupied with his own thoughts when he heard a shriek and a loud splash.
Glancing around he saw a riderless grey mare and what looked like a purple water lily in the middle of the stream. He spurred his mount into action and reached down to fetch his drenched wife out of the water. Her hat was askew but her countenance was laughing brightly at her predicament.
Mr Darcy hauled his wife onto his horse, dousing himself in the frigid river water.

“My horse...”

“She will come back to the stables by herself.”

He set out for Pemberley house in a brisk pace that made his wife hold onto his person for dear life. Silently, he wondered if she was shivering from the cold or if it was fear that had her trembling in his arms.

His footmen had noticed the strange equipage approaching the house and even Mrs Reynolds were out on the portico when he arrived.

“I can walk...” Elizabeth protested weakly but was blatantly overlooked by her husband who did not let up his fierce hold. He was barking orders right and left for bathwater and personal servants to attend them forthwith while carrying her to her mistress suite of rooms. Only there, did he put her down on her own two feet.

“Linney, make sure that Mrs Darcy remove all her wet garments immediately. The bathwater is on its way but it is paramount that she gets warmed up before the water is ready.”

“Yes, Sir.” Linney curtsied and started to remove the pins that secured her hat before she attacked the tiny buttons on the back of Elizabeth’s gown.

Mr Darcy stood rooted to the spot, now that his mission had been accomplished.

“Should you not remove your own wet garments, Mr Darcy?”

Elizabeth had said something but Darcy was at loss to what it was. The smirk that graced her countenance told him it was important. He hoped his answer fitted the inquiry.

“Yes...”

He turned and proceeded into his own chamber. Pacing back and forth.

“Mr Darcy, the bathwater is being brought up as we speak. May I aid you in the removal of your coat?”

“No, thank you, Grey. I will manage myself...”

Mr Darcy sought only solitude, he needed to think.
The fright he had just experienced lingered in his chest, making it difficult to breathe. It was of utmost importance to analyse the event directly.
Perhaps he had been hasty earlier in enumerating all the perks of having a wife and disregard the impediments...
It did not feel like a good scheme at the moment as he was willing his heart to slow down its rapid rhythm.
It would make the top of his mental list of deterrents, an unsteady heart rhythm, it could not possibly be healthy... In addition, she had definitely usurped much of the time he used to spend with his sister. Not that his sister seemed to mind but he certainly did.

“Mr Darcy, your bathwater is ready, Sir.” A maid announced timidly.

Mr Darcy sighed and entered his dressing room with the enticing copper tub.
He pulled at his coat-sleeve but it did not budge. He had entirely forgotten his sodden state, the woollen coat had shrunk until it fit like a second skin. Another sigh escaped his mouth as he stepped into the servants' secret hallway, looking for Grey. Two maids approached with pails of steaming water and opened the door to Elizabeth’s dressing room. Indignant, Mr Darcy turned to berate the maids. They should have filled her tub before his own. It was, after all, she who had fallen into the river.
The words froze on his lips as he espied his wife, the wet shift being lifted over her head by her maid. Fortunate indeed as she had no chance of catching him ogling her from the servant’s entrance.

Mr Darcy hurried back to his own chamber and pulled the bell to summon Grey. Contrite, he asked his man to help him undress.
Submerging in the warm water would surely clear his mind...

It did, it cleared his mind of all thoughts as his mental conjectures tended towards the visual rather than conscious reflections. An unbidden image of his wife's pleasing figure kept dancing over his retina. He had not seen her bared before. His wedding night had been performed in complete darkness and when the morning light had awakened him, his wife had vanished.

Better not stray down that alley of thoughts, he was listing her faults, not her merits. Now, where was he?
Right, his sister...
Georgiana had blossomed and no longer appeared as burdened with her Ramsgate debacle. He even suspected that Georgiana had confided in Elizabeth but he could not be absolutely certain. Not that he minded, his trust in Elizabeth was absolute.
What he did mind was the very little time that was left for him to interact privately with his sister. This afternoon was a perfect example of what sort of deterioration Mrs Darcy could add to an otherwise pleasurable outing.

An image flashed before his eyes of a taut, darkly coloured...
His eyes flew open and he startled at Grey, standing beside the tub with a cloth.

“Shall I wash your back, Mr Darcy?”

“No! No, thank you,” he added as an afterthought. “I am merely trying to get warm...”

It was absolutely out of the question for Grey to render him his services as there were certain predicaments even a trusted manservant should not be exposed to...

“Do you need anything else, Mr Darcy?”

“No, thank you.”

Mr Darcy closed his eyes and relaxed into the tub. Silently waiting for the soft thud of Grey shutting the door behind him before resuming his thought process albeit not where he left off...

He tried to remind himself how he and Georgiana used to occupy their time, previous to his marriage.
Usually, they sat quietly reading or eating. A preferable past time, he concluded.
He did occasionally sit in quietude with Elizabeth which was not a hardship giving the pleasurable view occupying his eyes. On the other hand, his thoughts wandered too often off the book he was reading.
Still, he occasionally brought Georgiana to his study alone, to check up on her progress on certain subjects she was studying on her own and her general happiness. It could not be said that he never had any private time with his sister but the crucks of the matter was that his sister clearly preferred Elizabeth’s company to his own.
He could not begrudge his sister sentiments, so did he, if he was, to be honest with himself.

Mr Darcy sat abruptly from his tub and called for Grey. He was done thinking...
When had he began taking such pleasure in his wife's company? Entirely against the purpose of acquiring a wife. He was not supposed to mind an occasional interaction but to prefer it over solitude was ridiculous. A set of actions needed, formed in his mind and his strides became more ascertained when a cause of actions were settled upon.

***

Only the tip of her nose was above the water. Linney bustled about her but Elizabeth paid her no mind. Her thoughts were more pleasantly engaged.
The sensations created by being held tightly against your husband’s chest were one...
His heart had raced but it could be the exercise of riding whilst securing an extra person on his mount.
Elizabeth had laughed when she fell off her horse but in reality, she had been afraid. She often laughed when she was scared witless. Perhaps, in retrospect, she should have enlightened her husband about her deficiency on horseback but she guessed it was a moot point now. The cat was out of the bag... She was a mediocre rider, not used to riding with the proper side-saddle.

***

Spring brought an awful lot of work for Mr Darcy. He was hardly ever at home during the day and barely had time to sit down for supper when he was at home. There must have been a lot of winter damage...
His evenings were spent locked up in his study with account books and correspondence.
Elizabeth berated herself for being such a poor rider or she could have lessened, at least some, of his many burdens.
She decided it was time she took on a chore she could aid him with. Sorting out his correspondence...

***

Darcy was pacing his study while his wife was watching in contemplation.
“You are in an awful mood, what could have affected you so?”
“You!”
“Me? Whatever have I done to rile your temper?”
“You are deliberately tempting me.”
Elizabeth looked up from her pile of letters, astonishment written on her countenance.
“Do not be ridiculous, I am well aware I do not tempt you... You made that quite clear, even before we had been properly introduced.”
“Humph! You float through Pemberley with a mixture of grace and sauciness. You cannot even perform such a mundane chore as closing the door without looking saucily over your shoulder when you exit. I am but a man Elizabeth, it is no wonder I am tempted...”
“How awful, being tempted by your own wife how despicable.”
“Do not mock me Elizabeth, you know as well as I that this is a marriage in name only.”
“Of course but I still do not see your dilemma.”
“I want you Elizabeth, as I have ever desired anything in my life.”
“How fortunate we are married. You have full ownership...”
“I do not want ownership, what a horrid thought. I want your love and devotion.”
“You have my love and devotion.”
“I do not mean a close kin love, I want you to love me as a husband.”
“I do not understand...”
Darcy closed the distance between them, hoisted Elizabeth to her feet and kissed her with such abandon that it made her knees grow weak.
He abruptly let her go and strode out of his study. Elizabeth could hear the thud of the garden door before she reacted. Half running she followed her husband out into the garden but his long strides made her have to shift into a full-fledged run, to catch up.
“You cannot leave me like that.”
“Like what, Elizabeth? Had I known how this farce would develop I would never have suggested such a stupid plot in the first place.”
Elizabeth gasped and both her hands cradled her heart.
“You regret marrying me?”
“Yes!”
With that, Darcy turned away from her and resumed his escape down the garden path.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6 The Convenience of Marriage

 

Elizabeth was left rooted to the spot as her husband’s form progressed into a distant object, literally if not in her affections.
Had he just admitted to be falling in love with her? Charmingly delivered as his greatest flaw?
The concerns she might have felt towards moving to Pemberley had come to nought.
She had worried that Georgiana would be excessively proud as Mr Wickham had described or the paragon of virtue Miss Bingley described. Georgiana, of course, was neither. She was a delightful sister and an amiable friend.
Life at Pemberley had not at all matched her prejudice of a dreary and sombre place to call home. She had much to occupy her time and the neighbourhood was lovely. Mrs Reynolds did not make her feel inadequate but taught her what her education from her mother had not entailed.
Even Mr Darcy himself had grown undetected into her heart.
As she watched his person dip into the woods, a realisation hit her full force. What if he did not come back? Forever lost in some unforeseen mishap? The pang that hit her chest drove her forward and soon the mad dash of the mistress could be witnessed from the upper floor windows. “About time,” Mrs Reynolds muttered as she checked the window sills for dust.

***

“Mr Darcy!”

Mr Darcy did not slow his stride nor did he give any other indications he had heard her.

“Fitzwilliam!”

She was only a few strides behind him, the dolt must have lost his hearing during the last few minutes or was he deliberately avoiding her? Elizabeth was not one for procrastination, always facing the bull head-on.

“Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley of Derbyshire!”

His pace continued undaunted.

“Please, I beg you...”

Elizabeth halted. If he did not want to talk to her, she could not make him.
Fatigue descended upon her. She wanted to sit down but the ground was damp and uninviting. Directing her gaze upwards, a thick branch over her head looked inviting. She had not climbed a tree in over a decade but to be perched above the world was tempting...

“Oh no, you do not.”

“What?”

“Climb that tree. With your merit list on ice and horseback, it is doomed from the start.”

“Are you calling me clumsy?”

“Not clumsy precisely but you definitely have an exaggerated confidence in your abilities.”

“You came back to rescue me? I can assure you, Mr Darcy, I am in no need of rescuing, at the moment...
While I confess the branch has a certain allure, I am not about to give you more reasons to avoid my company. It is clear to me that my presence is not wanted and I will act accordingly in a minute but first I wanted to tell you something.”

Mr Darcy met her gaze with grave solemnity, steeling himself for whatever may come.

“I love you!” She whispered before her breath hitched, she could not utter another word as a lump had formed in her throat and made speech impossible. She turned and fled out of the woods, aiming for her chamber before the tears that threatened to spill accomplished their feat.

***

Henry Linney, undergardener, was watching an amusing scene unfold before his eyes. Why his master and mistress preferred running in and out of the woods was quite beyond him when they had a comfortable house to enjoy in more pleasurable pursuits.
His sister had heaped praise and lauder upon her mistress but what he witnessed belied her assumptions of the level of common sense.
He was certain she would never catch up with the master’s long legs and he prided himself that he had been right when she resurfaced alone at a full run. He almost cursed when he was proven wrong a moment later when the master caught up with her. He hauled her back into to the woods but only behind the first tree.
Henry averted his eyes in respect as kissing ensued.
It was obvious they could not agree on a location. Mr Darcy tried to tow her out of the woods by tugging on her hand but Mrs Darcy had other ideas and a bush of lilac was her preferred hiding place. It would have given more coverage in the summer but in the early days of spring, it did not render much in the form of cover.
Henry respectfully averted his eyes, it would not be long before little feet would tattle along the hallways of Pemberley...
The master had had it and took the matter into his own hands, quite literally. The squeals and laughter wafted up to his vantage point as Mr Darcy carried his wife to the house.
He did not choose the main entrance this time but a backdoor, leading up the second floor in the east wing...

***

Henry Linney was right. By new years, if not exactly the tattling of little feet could be heard, the tiny cries of a new-born heir, could...

 

The End

 

Note: The last three stories I have written have been “nice” Darcy. I believe I have earned the right to write another jerky one or a horrible badass one or both...