Elizabeth felt lonelier than ever. How she despised herself! She had behaved abominably towards him. He had opened his heart to her, proclaimed his love for her and he had been utterly generous to her wretched family. And how did she react to this? She insulted him and treated her husband in an infamous manner. How could she have said those words to him? She didn’t deserve him. She had shattered his love for her and now she could only expect his indifference, his hatred. He must despise her…
Unable to contain her misery to herself any longer, Elizabeth withdrew from the stupor that had involved her for days. She needed to share her burden. Aunt Madeline, she thought. She would be able to help. She had never felt the need to rely on anyone. She had always prided herself in her independence. Of course she had Jane as her confidant of all time. But now distance came between them and the misery she felt in her heart broke her spirit. She felt lost and lonely. She longed for some familiar warmth.
Thus, she had turned to the wisest and friendliest woman of her acquaintance: her dear Aunt Madeline. And so she poured her soul, her grief, her doubts onto the sheets of paper that she covered with the uninterrupted scribbling of her pen. She gave her the painful account of her marriage and the quarrel that grieved her husband. The hours passed by swiftly as her tears mingled with her feverish scribbling. Before dawn, she had finished the long missive and sealed it. “I’m sealing my own fate,” she mumbled to herself. “I shall take Aunt Madeline’s advice, whatever it is, and act upon it”. She would have it sent to Gracechurch Street as quickly as possible.
Her confession had eased her depression slightly. She needed to take control of her life again. She needed to evaluate her feelings. She needed to… to make amends with her husband. The truth is, she whispered to her heart, I need him… But… do I want him?… Can I love him?
Elizabeth had decided that she should stop hiding in her room. Hadn’t her husband taken the first step last night? She now acknowledged how unfairly she had treated him. Darcy’s generosity towards the Bennets had been of the utmost unselfishness and she now realized he had done it for the woman he loved, not expecting gratitude from her. Only her love… the very thing she foolishly denied him in his face in the most intimate and vulnerable moment.
She regretted so much about her behaviour towards him. She had always thought him proud and arrogant. How humiliating it was to understand that she had been shamelessly prejudiced towards this man! She had been the proud and arrogant one! Of course, his behaviour in Meryton had been aloof and proud! Her family he had described in an infamous manner! What to think? , she mused confounded.
As dawn slowly awakened Pemberley, the soft sun rays seemed to call her outside. She would act immediately upon her resolution. She quickly donned her oldest black dress and her walking boots. She longed for fresh air and vigorous exercise. She needed to feel alive again. Then she would be able to face her husband for her first breakfast downstairs at Pemberley.
Another sleepless night. It pained him to see his wife suffering but her words still hurt in his mind. He had noticed that Elizabeth had been unable to sleep as well. He had heard her stirring in her chamber all night. Closing his eyes tightly, he sighed deeply. How long can this go on? Being close to her and not being able to touch her suave skin? Inhale her intoxicating scent… the lavender from her hair…How could he survive without her? Would they ever overcome this breach?
I should leave. Once again the thought crossed his mind leaving him weary. And it should be this morning… Steadfast to his resolution, Darcy summoned his valet. He would make the necessary arrangements to leave as quickly as possible after breakfast. He would no longer impose his presence on her. She wouldn’t be forced to remain in her room to avoid him. How to tell her about his departure? Shall I talk to her? He wondered. No, I can’t face her reproachful countenance. A note will suffice.
Whilst Jones, his valet, attended to his bath and clothing, Darcy quickly drafted a note for his wife. He would be civil but brief.
Urgent business in London has come to my attention. I shall need to leave hastily today in order to attend to it. I fear I shall be absent from Pemberley for at least two weeks. God bless you.
Darcy read the note twice. He didn’t like it but he didn’t know what to write either. It would have to suffice. A sound startled him. It was her bedroom door being closed. She must have summoned her maid, he thought as he glanced at the door that kept her from him. He folded the note and stared at it for some time. Rising from the desk he paced towards the large window where he witnessed the sunrise casting its soft rays over Pemberley. A movement below captured his attention. “Elizabeth”, he whispered reverently as he tenderly grazed the glass surface with his fingertips, longing to reach her. The dark figure that was his wife walked briskly across the rose garden. She was heading towards the copse beyond the pond. “She left her room” he muttered to himself. “She’s walking again!” A wave of tenderness washed over him as he realized she was becoming her usual self again. Perhaps she might even join me for breakfast! He hoped heartily.
Glancing over his shoulder, Darcy looked at his note. “It might not be wise to leave today,” he mused as he observed her light figure vanishing from his sight amidst the greenery. He returned quickly to his desk and without a second thought tucked it away in a drawer. “I’ll wait one more day,” he told himself determinedly.
The sun was well high and the heat was disturbing her. What happened? How long had she been there? Her hands itched badly and turning them she observed the scrapes and blood that covered her palms. “I must have fainted and hurt myself on these rocks,” she said softly. She was lying on the pebbles that covered the small margin of the bubbly stream crossing Pemberley’s grounds. I should have brought my gloves! She sighed frustrated and annoyed at herself.
“I must be a frightful sight!” she cried as she observed her dress covered with dirt on her right side. How could I get to her room unnoticed? She slowly stood up. She felt very weak and extremely hot and sweaty. She swayed slightly as she started walking back towards the house. Sighed and berated herself for her condition. She had been foolish to leave the house without eating anything! She didn’t sleep at all that night and she had eaten barely a thing for the past week. No wonder I feel so weak!
She walked back as quickly as she could and as Elizabeth approached the house she saw a grand carriage stationed near the entrance. Who can be here? she wondered. “I’m not fit to be seen!”, she whispered worried.
Pausing in the cool entrance, she inhaled deeply as she fought her growing uneasiness. She assessed if anyone was present. She needed to get to her room. No one seemed to be about so she raced through the hall and reached the grand staircase.
Elizabeth froze. She cringed her teeth from embarrassment and turned her flushed face towards the voice. And there she was… A blonde vision of cool perfection. Clad in soft blue silk and wearing an annoying smile of satisfaction. Her delicate ungloved hands clutching tightly Darcy’s arm. Elizabeth breathed in deeply as she closed her eyes for a scarce moment and then replied coolly,
“Mrs Worthington, this is a surprise.”
Elizabeth’s mortification was written all over her countenance. She felt utterly humiliated. And she was embarrassing her husband as well! For there he was, standing close to the splendorous but hateful Mrs Worthington… and his wife was the opposite reflection of her beauty: her hands covered with dirt and blood and her hideous black dress with mud. She was sweaty and flushed from the heat. She closed her eyes once again and forced herself to reign her nervousness. Her shame glowed on her face.
“Yes, indeed. In fact, it is a surprise to see you as well…” Her sneer implying her shabby appearance as Mrs Worthington’s eyes perused her in contempt.
“Please, excuse me.” Elizabeth muttered as she curtsied and rushed up the stairs.
She had just entered her room when she noticed her husband standing behind her.
“Elizabeth, are you well?” Concern marked his handsome face. “You seem to have blood on your hands! What happened? Are you hurt?”
“Please, it is nothing, sir.” She turned away.
“B-But the blood…” he grasped her hands gently and turned them over. His lips straightened in a worried line as he tenderly touched her scraped skin.
“Don’t trouble yourself. I just tripped on the pebbles by the stream and fell on them. It’s nothing, sir.” His tender grasp left her uneasy.
“Are you certain? Shall I call the doctor? Shall I get your maid?”
“Yes, I’m certain. There’s no need for a doctor, sir. Though I do need Sally’s assistance. I must make myself presentable. I wasn’t informed we would be entertaining today, sir.” Elizabeth snapped at him irritated.
“I didn’t know either. They arrived while I was waiting for you for breakfast.” He replied annoyed.
“You were expecting me for breakfast? Sir?” she whispered astonished as he looked at her closely.
“I-I was hoping… I saw you leaving the house this morning and I hoped you were well enough to join me… but it seems I was mistaken,” he ended sharply.
Elizabeth closed her eyes to shield her chagrin. She wanted to tell him she had resolved to share the meal with him. But she couldn’t tell him what happened… that she had fainted from mere hunger. How silly she had been! “I’m sorry… I was expecting to... but I lost track of time… The grounds are so beautiful…”
Darcy observed her closely and he seemed to want to say something to her. He paused and withdrew. He glanced at her hands that he still held in his and dropped them abruptly.
“I’ll ask Mrs Reynolds to tend to your hands, madam, and send your maid up as well. I shall be entertaining our guests in the music room.”
“Thank you, sir,” she replied softly unable to look at him. But looking up suddenly she wasn’t sure if he had heard at all as he had already left the room.
As Elizabeth approached the music room, she could hear Mrs Worthington’s laughter and her music. Elizabeth paused in the hall and glanced nervously at her reflection in a mirror. She had tried to enhance her figure but she knew she wasn’t beautiful and the fact that she was in mourning didn’t help her either. There was an urge in her that she couldn’t understand and it upset her. She needed to best that hateful blonde and this awkward need frustrated her.
Sally has tried her best, she acknowledged sighing resignedly. She was wearing her new grey silk dress she had acquired for her light mourning. It was a compromise and it was very becoming on her figure. A grey ribbon weaved among her dark curls was the only adornment she could use.
Elizabeth took one deep breath and paused to collect herself. She was feeling better than earlier. She smiled as she thought of the delightful tray her husband had ordered to be sent up with Mrs Reynolds. And the diligent housekeeper had been very gentle with the tending to her hands. They were cleaned with lavender oil and a creamy concoction was applied to soothe her scraped skin.
Glancing once more in the mirror, Elizabeth straightened her shoulders and resolved to face her challenge. It was humiliating to be caught in that state by her, of all people, but I will not allow her to belittle my position as mistress of Pemberley! And with determination she entered the room.
“Mrs Darcy!” exclaimed the greasy figure. Mr Worthington jumped from his seat and approached her quickly. “We feared you wouldn’t be joining us! I was starting to believe old Darcy here was hiding his bride from us!” He bowed so low over her hand that she even thought he might tumble over.
“Mr Worthington…” she turned around to face her husband who resumed his seat at the pianoforte next to the odious blonde. He was turning the music pages for her. Elizabeth cleared her throat and stated coolly, “Please excuse my delay and for not receiving you properly. I was walking and lost track of time. The grounds here at Pemberley are so alluring and I’m still becoming acquainted with them.”
Despite her cool tone, her pleasure was quite evident on her features. Darcy could not but beam at her as he took pleasure from her sparkling fine eyes. He smiled at her shyly, surprising his wife. In an impulse, Elizabeth timidly smiled back at him but looked away.
The exchange between the newlyweds was not lost on Isabella Worthington who could not but feel displeased about it. Resuming her playing, she scolded her companion, “My dear Mr Darcy,” she purred to him as she leaned closer, “You are neglecting me, sir…” She batted her eyelashes at him as he apologized and turned another page for her.
After having summoned a footman and requested refreshments for the party, Elizabeth took a seat facing the couple at the music instrument. The sight captured her attention. She is indeed a remarkable pianist and beautiful as well… But what annoyed her deeply was the striking picture she presented sitting close to Darcy. They were a handsome couple and that thought caused a strange twist in her stomach.
As she gracefully fingered the keys, Mrs Worthington glanced at Darcy openly. She was well aware that Elizabeth was observing her but that didn’t stop her. On the contrary, she felt emboldened. Yes, she thought, it would be wonderful to have this man as a lover… and teach this country chit a lesson. She does not belong to our rank! It would be delightful to humiliate her further in her husband’s eyes.
Isabella Worthington looked quickly at her husband and cringed at the thought that she was wasting her beauty on him. She had been considering for some time the idea of engaging a lover. And when she reacquainted herself with Darcy at the Matlocks, she quickly decided catching this handsome male specimen as her lover. To be the lover of Fitzwilliam Darcy would definitely mean something… They were both married which could make things less complicated if they were discreet. Her husband was a slimy fool and that wife of his was an insignificant ignorant thing… Why, even the Earl of Matlock seemed to almost shun her in his family’s presence! Darcy would come to his senses and realize how unsuitable his choice was! He would quickly grow tired of her obvious lack of sophistication which would drive him into her power! She had already sensed Elizabeth’s uneasiness. She noticed as well that she was displeased about Darcy’s attentions upon her. This might be a too easy challenge after all! She smugly thought as she continued playing her music.
Elizabeth was seriously displeased. As if her strained relationship with her husband hadn’t been enough, they had to endure the odious couple’s presence for supper and the night. Why had they come here? was the questioned that swirled in her mind the whole afternoon and evening. Darcy had assured her earlier that he hadn’t invited them and that he didn’t know they were visiting. Mr Worthington had explained that they had been on a short stay with relatives up North and that they were on their way back to London. As they drove through Derbyshire, Mrs Worthington had expressed her wishes to visit the newlyweds and bring some sophistication to the wilderness at Pemberley. Elizabeth smiled wanly at her guest but somehow she felt uneasy about that woman’s presence.
Her continuous babbling about events and people from the ton bored her profoundly. Mr Worthington, on the other hand, seemed remarkably akin to her greasy cousin Mr Collins. He either engaged himself in eating and drinking in a slobbering manner or he oozed mellifluously over her or his wife. And Darcy? He seemed placidly calm and polite. How she longed to seek refuge in her bedroom! But she could not. As mistress of Pemberley she needed to play the role of a perfect hostess and gracefully attend to her guests.
Supper had been served and her guests and husband seemed to be enjoying themselves. The servants had supplied them with a lavish meal. Mrs Worthington had even begun to sound less superior in her manner of address towards Elizabeth. Yes, she mused, the evening is going well enough. She recalled the unpleasant exchange that had occurred at the Matlocks weeks ago. She did not wish for it to happen again as she knew it would displease her husband and embarrass herself further.
“Mrs Darcy, I shall be pleased to have you join me for tea very soon.” The blonde addressed her with a pale smile plastered on her face.
“Thank you, Mrs Worthington,” she replied coldly with a forced grin. “The next time we are in town, I shall call upon you.”
“Well, we might as well set up a date… Perhaps, this Thursday?”
Elizabeth looked up sharply. “B-but I thought you lived in London…” she frowned in confusion.
“Why, yes, Mrs Darcy. But aren’t you leaving to town tomorrow as well?” Mrs Worthington inquired amused.
An awkward silence fell upon the hosts. Darcy squirmed in his seat as he realized his mistake in not informing her about his leaving the next morning. In fact, he hadn’t decided yet, but the arrival of the Worthingtons and the several hints that Isabella had let out about wishing to stay at Pemberley made him come to a decision. He had immediately informed the couple that he would be leaving to London on urgent business the next day. Though he hadn’t explained he wouldn’t be taking his wife with him. Of course, the information set Isabella’s mind to retreating back to London as well. Darcy looked up at his wife and flinched at the sight before him. Elizabeth was flushed with shame and anger. She bit forcefully her lower lip in an attempt to control herself.
“Well, actua-…” she started embarrassed.
“Mrs Darcy isn’t accompanying me into town.” Darcy answered hurriedly. “Urgent business affairs await me there. But I shall be away for a very short time.” The damage had been done, he mused, there wasn’t anything he could do now.
Elizabeth glared at him but decided to remain silent. She had been humiliated enough. There was no need to expose their troubles to the hateful couple. At least he hasn’t the nerve to look at me! She glanced at her left and wasn’t surprised to see the smug expression and wide grin on Isabella’s countenance. She seemed very pleased about her hostess’s mortification. She arched an eyebrow towards Elizabeth and reaching for Darcy’s arm, she placed her hand on it.
“Then, my dear Mr Darcy,” she purred sweetly, “you must visit us while in town. We wouldn’t want you to be lonely, would we my dear husband?”
Mr Worthington quickly ascertained their host that he would definitely be welcome at their home.
“You see, Mrs Darcy, we will take care of your dear husband for you.” She smiled haughtily at Elizabeth. “It will be a pleasure.”
Unable to respond, Elizabeth swallowed a sob. Then she stood and quickly invited all to join her in the drawing room for coffee and sweets. She vowed to not look at her husband. If she had, she would have seen his torn and apologetic expression.
The next morning brought the departure of their unwanted guests and of the master of Pemberley. Although Elizabeth had preferred to remain in her rooms, she needed to see her guests off. The mere idea of Isabella Worthington travelling in her husband’s company, though in separate carriages, left her ill. She had not overcome her embarrassment and the woman’s behaviour towards her left her feeling even worse. She was so annoyingly condescending… Elizabeth could not but feel lacking in several aspects… She lacked beauty, connections, talent, social aptitudes, and even her husband’s confidence! “Insufferable man!,” she muttered infuriated.
Standing tall at the entrance of their home, Elizabeth graciously bid her guests farewell. But when her husband turned to her, she couldn’t prevent herself from trembling. She couldn’t fathom if it was from anger or his proximity. He grasped her hand and brought it to his lips. He apologized to her softly as his lips grazed her fingers.
“Elizabeth, I’m very sorry… I will write… I shall see you in two weeks.” He dropped her hand after squeezing it gently. He looked at her for a long time as if memorizing her lovely face. But she would not look at him. Instead, she had the unfortunate idea of glancing at the Worthingtons’ carriage where she could glimpse the triumphant expression spreading on the blonde’s face.
Insufferable woman! she fumed.
And then they were gone.
The warm days at Pemberley seemed to go by in a slow pace. At least it seemed so to Elizabeth. She had tried to invest her lonely time in becoming better acquainted with the estate and her responsibilities as the mistress of such a grand house. Mrs Reynolds had been very attentive and supportive to her as she guided her through her duties and decisions. The housekeeper was indeed a gem. She seemed to have taken her under her wing, in the same manner she cared for Darcy and his young sister. Elizabeth also learnt from Mrs Reynolds more about her husband’s character: how he was a generous and fair master to his servants and tenants, kind to those in need and fiercely loyal and devoted to the ones he loved. Such glowing reports made her feel both proud of her husband’s nature and distressed about her own foolish blindness towards him.
Elizabeth had also expressed her interest in learning about the tenants’ needs and she had even ventured some tentative visits under the caring tutelage of Mrs Reynolds. The acknowledgement of the true nature of the estate and the multitude of people under Darcy’s responsibility humbled her. She had married a man of great importance and great responsibilities. How could she have treated him so callously? As if he were no one of consequence? These thoughts made her also realize the depth of his regard for her. Had he not refused to act in accordance with his family’s sense of duty by marrying her? A woman of no fortune or connections?
Elizabeth stopped in the gallery where she had retreated to seek some coolness from the day’s heat. She stared longingly at her husband’s portrait. How she had misjudged such an honourable man! A true gentleman of the most generous nature… And she had spurned his love, his passionate regard for her, she trampled upon it! As she dwelled on her past mistakes, which she had been doing constantly since she had learned the truth, Elizabeth allowed herself to sink into a profound state of melancholy.
She sat on a window seat and leaned against the windowpane, closing her eyes for a respite. She sighed deeply and retrieved from her pocket the letters she had received two days ago. Her husband had sent an express on his arrival but he had kept to his promise and wrote her a letter. She perused it once more and could not prevent the brief disappointment that grasped her heart each time she read it. What had she expected from him? A billet-doux? After having treated him so cruelly? Nevertheless, she could not complain the gentle and polite tone of his script.
I hope this letter finds you in good health and enjoying the grounds of Pemberley. London has been exceptionally hot these days and I find myself longing for the cool shades of our home.
I have been tending to the business that has claimed my presence in London and all is being accomplished satisfactorily. However, there are some loose ends to be met yet. I assure you I am working diligently so that I may return to you swiftly. Thus, I have no intentions of socializing whilst in town.
Doubt had flashed her mind every time she read it. I have no intentions of socializing whilst in town. Could he be telling the truth? He wasn’t visiting the Worthingtons? Elizabeth shuddered at the thought of the dreadful Isabella who shamelessly flaunted herself at Darcy. She felt insulted and disrespected and she couldn’t stop feeling a twinge of disappointment that her husband would not put an end to the woman’s distasteful flirtations. The mere thoughts regarding this subject left her flushed and ill-tempered. She resumed her reading.
The exception to my family and your dear Aunt and Uncle, Mr and Mrs Gardiner, with whom I had the pleasure to dine with last night. They have entreated me to convey to you their warmest regard.
If all goes well, I shall be returning to join you by the end of next week. I will collect Georgiana from my Uncle Matlock’s estate to bring her home to Pemberley. I know she is eager to become more acquainted with you and she hopes you will accept her as a dear sister. I know your affectionate and generous disposition will not fail her expectations. Your loyalty to those you love is a blessing I believe you will kindly bestow upon my beloved sister. Please allow me to anticipate the expression of my everlasting gratitude for your acceptance of my dear sister into your heart.
I humbly remain your faithful servant,
She folded the letter carefully and put it in her lap. She retrieved the other and opened it to read it again. It was the longed for advice from her dear Aunt Madeline. Glancing at her husband’s portrait she felt a sudden emptiness in her heart. She now realized she missed Darcy. His absence was affecting her acutely and that confused her mind even more. She sighed deeply and started reading her Aunt’s letter once more.
My dearest Lizzy,
I dare say your letter has left me deeply concerned about your welfare. I only wish you had confided in me before your wedding. It might have saved you from some distress at least. But now you seek my advice, my dear, and I do hope I can provide you some, as well as a little comfort.
You have misled us all about your feelings toward Mr Darcy. I had assumed your lack of spirit and enthusiasm on the eve of your wedding as the natural consequence of the loss of your most beloved father. I truly believed you had an attachment towards your partner as I was well aware of your intention to marry only a man whom you could love and respect.
Having sacrificed your own personal happiness in exchange for your family’s security was a very high price to pay, my dear niece. Your husband has proved himself to be a very generous man. In fact, your Uncle’s dealings with him – regarding both Longbourn and Netherfield as well as your settlement and wedding arrangements – have been very revealing about Mr Darcy’s character. We believe him to be the most generous man of our acquaintance. And Lizzy, you do understand that he has done all for you alone. His love for you, I believe, is boundless.
I must tell you that I agree with you when you say that you have deceived him. When you accepted his proposal and you did not disclose your true feelings for him, you have willingly deceived him. I wonder about how dreadful that night must have been for the both of you, dearest Lizzy. I am sure you regret, by now, the harsh words you exchanged with your husband.
I must concede that his interference with Mr Bingley and our dear Jane was reproachable. But didn’t he interfere out of loyalty to his friend? Do we not know that Jane is too shy and protective of her feelings? To a stranger, as Mr Darcy, her attachment would not be as obvious as it was to those who knew her well. Can you not understand Mr Darcy’s actions? Would you not have done the same if it were the other way around? You would have certainly been fiercely protective towards your sister!
Lizzy, my dear, I do comprehend your animosity about his description of our family. But I need not tell you about your younger sisters’ behaviour or even your dear mother’s. It was wrong of him for sure, but did he not overcome that? He did marry you in spite of his objections and his love for you has led him to lavish upon your mother and sisters unbound generosity!
As for the account about Mr Wickham, I do understand your reluctance to disclose the entirety as you hold your husband’s confidence. We have certainly been utterly blinded by that man’s amiable manners. I understand you feel disappointed in yourself as you have misjudged both Wickham’s and Mr Darcy’s characters. But do not dwell on that, Lizzy. Do not be so harsh upon yourself. We all make mistakes and I am certain your husband can understand that.
As for the other matter which is upsetting you, my dear, I am not sure how to address it. So, I must be blunt. Forgive me if I embarrass you but I fear you need to be assured of some things. It seems your mother has done a very poor job in informing you about what is expected from a wife. Let me tell you that the union between a man and his wife need not be the unpleasant affair your mother described to you. Place your trust and your heart in your husband, my dear. The feelings you have described are natural and they can even be more intense when a couple is deeply in love and respect each other. These feelings that embarrass you are the true response of your body to your husband’s. From what I have observed in Mr Darcy, I believe he won’t be offended by what you call your “wantonness”. In fact, and forgive my boldness, my dearest, I think he would be very pleased as he seems to be a very quiet but intensely passionate man.
Thus, take care not to trifle with your husband’s love for you and open your heart and accept him. Look into your heart. I do believe, from what you have told me about this “fear of wantonness” that your heart has not been untouched by your husband. Allow yourself the time to truly know and accept him and let aside past grievances and harsh words exchanged in such bitter moments. Dwelling on the past does not solve problems, Elizabeth. Holding grudges will only damage the weak bond of your marriage.
Perhaps you both need time to digest what has happened between you and to let the feelings stirring within your heart mature, Lizzy. Forgive him and I do believe he will forgive you as well.
But I must write no more. The children have been wanting me this half hour.
Your loving Aunt,