Pemberley was a grand estate indeed. The house was magnificent but not ostentatious. It was happily situated amidst delightful gardens and overlooking a charming lake and woods. Elizabeth felt that her stay here would provide her with ample forms of entertainment. She was well aware, as well, that her responsibilities as mistress of such a grand estate would be overwhelming. But she believed that she would be able to manage them in time. Yes, she was determined to work hard to make her marriage less disagreeable to her. Her arrival at Pemberley had been happier than she had expected to.
Darcy had noted his wife’s lighter disposition and attributed it to the magic of Pemberley. He had always known that she would fit admirably in his beloved home. He stared at his wife, taking in her reactions as the coach approached the house. He was pleased beyond measure.
Elizabeth was mesmerized as she glanced over the grounds and woods. Sighing deeply with a light smile on her lips she turned to face her husband. “Your estate is beautiful, sir.” she whispered.
“Welcome to Pemberley… Welcome to our home, my love…” he reached out grasping her hand. He swiftly took her glove off and bestowed feathery kisses on her skin. She gasped as a deep blush covered her face in reaction to the sensations his warm lips were causing on her hand. She couldn’t stop the fluttering inside her. It was disconcerting… but utterly pleasant…
The coach finally halted in front of the grand stairway leading up to the main entrance. Darcy quickly put her glove back on and, smiling broadly, he descended. He reached out for her but, instead of holding her hand to help her get out, he impulsively grasped hold of her waist and twirled her around laughing softly. He stopped suddenly and, shocking both his wife and servants, he kissed her soundly before gently placing her feet on the ground.
Elizabeth was so astonished that she stared openly at her husband for long time, captivated by his playfulness and his mesmerizing dimples. Perceiving his wife’s astonishment, Darcy chuckled as he pulled her hand to introduce her to Mrs Reynolds, his loyal housekeeper and a long, long line of well-wishing servants.
It had been a long day, after a long journey. As she brushed her dark curls, Elizabeth weighed her impressions and thoughts in her mind. She had feared this long journey as she would be spending a long time in a confined space with Mr Darcy. His nearness confused her as did his ardent manners. His past actions refused to leave her mind but she sensed a change in her. She was becoming more and more vulnerable to his tender advances and his return to Pemberley was allowing her to know a more amiable and relaxed version of her husband.
Elizabeth let her gaze fall upon the beautiful bouquet that rested on her vanity-table. It was a gorgeous arrangement of white camellias. Before supper, when he had showed her her room, he embraced her waist and whispered seductively in her ear that he had ordered those flowers for a particular reason:
“I read once, my love, that flowers convey special messages between lovers… Camellias are symbols of perfection… and the message white camellias hide is You are adorable…”*
She sighed deeply closing her eyes. She recalled the kiss he had given her then. She believed she could still feel the tingling on her lips. Her reactions to him confounded her.
She set on the vanity the lovely silver brush her husband had presented her on their wedding day. The grooming set he gave her that day was exquisitely engraved with roses and it had her new initials, ED. He can be a very thoughtful and generous man, she thought. Generous enough to provide for her family’s wellbeing, the same family he found deplorable. She snapped at herself, but regretting immediately the hurtful memory of his words.
She recalled once reading that there was a thin line between love and hate. She hated her husband, at least for what he had done to Jane and Mr Wickham. His proud and arrogant manner disgusted her as well, but she had also come to know a softer and tenderer version of him during the three weeks they spent in London. Is it true what they say, that hate is close to love? She wondered.
They were at Pemberley, at last. And the woman he loved was a few paces away from him. He had enjoyed Elizabeth’s reactions to his home, their home, he corrected himself. She truly belonged there… She seemed happier and more at ease. She seemed the Elizabeth he had fallen in love with before she lost her father.
Three weeks had flown away since their wedding. A small grin graced his lips as he remembered the sweet intimacies he had exchanged with his wife. His wife… the word filled his heart with such joy! But a certain uneasiness persisted in the back of his mind. Elizabeth still betrayed a certain shyness that he believed she would have overcome by now. He understood her maidenly coyness but… her resistance to his caresses upset him. He wanted her to feel the same pleasure he felt when he held her in his arms. He knew her body was responsive to his… as he sensed her resistance.
Perhaps it was his fault. He had been too eager on their first night and he regretted it. He hoped she hadn’t been too upset about his performance then. However, he had tried ever since to make her feel more at ease in bed and to let herself give in to the pleasures of his lovemaking. He realized that young ladies were brought up to behave properly and that the pleasures of the flesh were frowned upon by “polite” society. But his father had taught him that in a marriage of love, as his had been, there were no barriers between husband and wife. That was the sort of marriage he wanted. He would have to gently teach Elizabeth…
Sighing deeply, he let himself in her bedchamber.
Darcy had been some what insatiable that evening, having ravished her twice already. In the middle of the night, she woke up as he was caressing her body devotedly, fondling her most intimate parts. It was clear that her husband wanted to engage her for a third time in her ‘wifely duties’. Elizabeth had found extremely difficult that night to conceal the effects of his touch upon her body. He seemed determined to make her behave wantonly…
She complied with him by allowing his fondling. His passionate kisses left her panting. Slowly he undid the ties on the front of her nightgown and, sliding it down gently, he uncovered her breasts. She blushed in her confusion but he continued his seduction as he left a trail of feathery kisses down her neck till the soft peaks of her warm white breasts. He started suckling her which left her stunned and shuddering from unknown pleasures… He had never done that before and it was causing her to feel differently… wantonly…
However, when, between his attentions upon her sensitive nipples, he asked her to take off her nightgown so that he could look at her, she froze. Elizabeth blushed furiously, mortified with such a request of impropriety. Was he trying to test her responses, to determine how low her upbringing was? The thought crossed her mind making her frown and tremble in distress.
“Elizabeth, what is the matter? Why are you trembling? Don’t feel ashamed, my dearest… We are husband and wife now. This is all proper between two people who love each other as deeply as we do…” he whispered to her, caressing her face, trying to calm her.
As he spoke of love, she closed her eyes to conceal the wave of guilt she felt for not loving him back. She felt his strong hands pulling the thin nightgown off her body. Her nakedness aroused her even more, leaving her more vulnerable to his touch and to the cool air of the night. Soon she felt the searing heat of his skin upon her, as Darcy had got rid of his nightclothes as well. The feeling of him on her caused her to shiver with pleasure… she gasped and felt too weak to fight her own self.
Perceptive to her reactions and her close surrender, Darcy whispered in her ear sweet nothings and reassured her of her loveliness and urged her to let herself go. Soft kisses rained on her eyes, nose, face and neck. She felt her composure melt against his tenderness and the warmth of his body. He caressed her soft core with feathery touches sending deep shivers through her body. She widened her eyes in amazement and shame.
“Don’t worry… Elizabeth... My love, let me love you… Please, let me show you…” he murmured against her lips. He slid easily inside her as she was highly aroused from his ministrations and slippery from the remnants of his previous lovemaking.
He lovingly caressed her face with his eyes and kneaded gently her breasts. He started moving in and out of her slowly, teasing excruciatingly her wet folds. Moving his hands down her body, he grasped her hip firmly with one hand and cupped her bottom with the other, urging her to match his rhythm in their dance. Elizabeth couldn’t resist any longer the sensations raging through her body. She surrendered to the white explosion inside her, the warm flush of pleasure rushing through her. Incapable of controlling herself, she cried out his name as he reached his own release, making her ride the crest of passion again. Overwhelmed, she clung to her husband as the violent throbbing of their bodies quieted down.
Still inside her, Darcy urged her to open her eyes that she had closed in complete embarrassment.
“My love, open your eyes. Let me see you… You are lovely…” He praised her loveliness… the sweetness of her kiss and the silkiness of her skin. He murmured her name over and over again, trying to reassure her that what happened was natural. Feeling him still inside her as he talked to her, rendered her even more discomfited.
He chuckled softly which succeeded in making her open her eyes. She looked bashfully at him and inquired why he was laughing.
“When you had your pleasure, you shouted ‘Mr Darcy’…” he laughed softly. “Now that I think of it, I believe you’ve never called me by my given name… Why, Elizabeth?”
She shrugged and blushed deeply as she felt him jolt inside her. He understood her reaction and smoothly slid off her and he covered their bodies by pulling the sheet and blanket over them. He drew her gently into his arms and he kissed her forehead and the tip of her nose. He looked into her eyes with such serious devotion that made her feel overwhelmed.
“Elizabeth, I love you with all my heart.” His voice trembled with emotion. He watched seriously her as he waited for her reply. Suddenly he felt uncertain; he needed to hear her tell him how much she loved him. But her answer wouldn’t come.
As he spoke of his love for her, she opened wide her eyes and guilt crossed her lovely features, shocked that he expected her love. He truly believed that she loved him… Her face revealed too much of her anguish to Darcy who quickly understood that something was amiss…
Sitting up abruptly, Darcy gazed acutely at his wife trying to control his confusion when suddenly he gasped… He understood at last! Images of their past intimacies flashing in his mind, her awkwardness, her shyness… Her distress? Her formality in her address… It was all the revelation of her true feelings towards him… Could she not be in love with him?
“What is wrong, Elizabeth? Will you not tell me you love me?” fear flashed in his deep brown eyes. He waited long for her reply. She would not answer but turned her face away from him.
“I demand an answer!” his hurt stressed his voice. Quiet desperation fell upon them.
Elizabeth couldn’t look at him. She couldn’t answer him. She was so distressed, scared of what might happen… But she had to tell him how she felt… She could no longer live a lie with this man who held her future and her safety in his hands. Trembling she looked up at him and whispered “No”.
Dashing frantically out of her bed, Darcy started pacing around the room, trying desperately to control his emotions. Pulling his hair with his desperate fingers, he kept flashing his hurt eyes towards Elizabeth.
“You don’t love…” A tear fell on his cheek. He was utterly confused. “But… we have just… For three weeks… You and I…” Incoherent thoughts rendered him speechless as he looked at his wife. His wife… whom he didn’t know. Her deception hurt him deeply and baffled him. She had accepted him in her bed every night since their wedding. He had loved her, a woman who had lied to him. Hurt gave way to anger.
“Why did you marry me, then?” He asked brusquely. “Was it for my money?”
Elizabeth clutched the sheets against her sobbing body. Her state of undress left her in an even more uncomfortable and humiliating position. She needed to be truthful to him. She could no longer hide her true disposition. How could such wonderful moments become a living hell…
“Why did you marry me? Answer me!”
Unable to look at him she cried softly “For my family, sir.”
NOTE: * From The Language of Flowers
“Your family?” He repeated unable to comprehend her meaning.
“Yes, my father… his death… We were left in a desperate situation, sir.” She hid her face in her knees sobbing convulsively.
“B-But… but I proposed to you before you even learned about his death.” Confused he approached her. “We were engaged before that.” Only then did he realize that he was still nude. Humiliated, he rushed towards the bed and grabbed his nightshirt, putting it on swiftly. He faced her again with anguish written all over his face.
“I-I don’t understand… You accepted me! Remember?”
“No, I didn’t.” She raised her head and looked at him. He looked so desperate and bewildered. Should she tell him? “Wh-when you proposed… we were interrupted. Mr Collins came in before I could give you my answer… and I…”
“Are you telling me that you were going to… to refuse me? I don’t believe it, madam!” He cut her explanation with a sarcastic and disbelieving tone in his voice.
Elizabeth’s distress quickly escalated into ire. How dare he! How presumptuous of him! Of all his arrogance… She groaned in great annoyance and sharply cried “Yes, I was going to refuse you!”
He started. He stared in complete astonishment. Her words sank in as her earnest reply. Could he have misunderstood her all along? Darcy fixed his eyes on her face. His complexion became pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature. He was struggling for the appearance of self-control, and would not open his lips, till he believed himself to have attained it. At length, in a voice of forced composure, he said,
“And this would be the reply which I would have had the honour of expecting? I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little endeavour at civility, you would have rejected me, as a husband?”
“I might as well enquire,” replied she, “why, with so evident a design of offending and insulting me, you proposed to me in such an abhorrent manner? You told me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character? But I had and still have other provocations. You know I have. Had not my own feelings decided against you, had they been indifferent, or had they even been favourable, do you think that any consideration would have tempted me to accept the man, who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?”
He winced as he realized she knew about his interference in Bingley’s messy love life. But he could not stop staring at her. Her fierce countenance and the anger flashing in her dark eyes rendered her even more beautiful. Her chocolate curls were in a wild disarray, consequence of their intense lovemaking. Her lips were swollen from his passionate embraces. Her naked shoulders and partially uncovered bosom were a prelude to her luscious body, barely hidden from him by the thin sheet. She was so breathtakingly sensual… This gorgeous creature had been his… and now she was slipping away from him…
Encouraged by his lack of response, Elizabeth continued her thrashing at him. The bottled up resentment and frustrations were flowing ferociously through her lips.
“I have every reason in the world to think ill of you, Mr Darcy. No motive can excuse the unjust and ungenerous part you acted there. You dare not, you cannot deny that you have been the principal, if not the only means of dividing them from each other, of exposing one to the censure of the world for caprice and instability, the other to its derision for disappointed hopes, and involving them both in misery of the acutest kind. I even believe that you concealed from Mr Bingley my father’s death and our own wedding.”
She paused, and saw with indignation that he was listening with an air which proved him completely unmoved by any feeling of remorse. He even looked at her with a smile of affected incredulity.
“Can you deny that you have done it, sir?'' she repeated.
Unable to disguise his composure any longer, he shouted, “I have no wish of denying that I did everything in my power to separate my friend from your sister, or that I rejoice in my success. From what I can see now, I have been kinder towards him than towards myself.”
He resumed his frantic pacing around the bedroom. Again he stopped and explained, “You would have me believe your sister would have accepted Bingley uninterestedly? Even at the Netherfield ball, your mother was already boasting to all who could hear her about her daughter’s “ability” in capturing the attentions of a gentleman of 5 thousand pounds! I did not wish my friend to fall in the hands of a fortune hunter!”
Elizabeth started at his words. But soon her anger would be replaced by utter humiliation. She closed her eyes as his words hit her:
“But, no… What am I saying?” He snorted sarcastically. “No, I prevented him from committing the mistake that I let myself fall into. Isn’t life ironic, dearest? For indeed, I married the fortune hunter, haven’t I, my wife? ”
His contorted face and tight fists betrayed his fury. Elizabeth felt the room spinning around her. This is horrifying, she thought. Their argument was reaching an irreversible peak. How could they go on after this? But the damage was done. Her turmoil upset her so much that she no longer cared for what would happen to them, to her. He had wounded her… and she wanted to hurt him as badly as he had. She raised her eyes belligerently and struck again.
“You are right, husband. Perhaps you have deserved that fate… For you sir, may believe to be a man without fault! Well, allow me to tell you that from the very beginning, from the first moment I may almost say, of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form that ground-work of disapprobation, on which succeeding events have built so immoveable a dislike.”
He winced and unable to control himself again he approached her bed and gazed over her ill-clad body in a lustful manner that caused her to flush and shudder from complete humiliation.
“You seem to have overcome your dislike, madam…” he replied ironically.
Gasping at his insult, she swallowed and let her anger get the better of her.
“You, sir, are no gentleman!” she hissed. She saw him start at this, but he said nothing, and she continued, “But that should not surprise me… For I had learned about your lack of character before…”
The look of confusion on his face enticed her to go on with her attack:
“Your character was unfolded in the recital which I received months ago from Mr. Wickham. On this subject, what can you have to say? In what imaginary act of friendship can you here defend yourself? or under what misrepresentation, can you here impose upon others?”
“You take an eager interest in that gentleman's concerns,” said Darcy in a less tranquil tone, and with a heightened colour. Jealousy flashing in his dark eyes.
“Who that knows what his misfortunes have been, can help feeling an interest in him?”
“His misfortunes!” repeated Darcy contemptuously; “yes, his misfortunes have been great indeed.”
“And of your infliction,” cried Elizabeth with energy. “You have reduced him to his present state of poverty. You have withheld the advantages, which you must know to have been designed for him. You have deprived the best years of his life, of that independence which was no less his due than his desert. You have done all this! And yet you can treat the mention of his misfortunes with contempt and ridicule.”
“And this,” cried Darcy, as he walked with quick steps across the room, “is your opinion of me! This is the estimation in which you hold me! I thank you for explaining it so fully. My faults, according to this calculation, are heavy indeed! But perhaps,” added he, stopping in his walk, and turning towards her, “these offences might have been overlooked, had not your pride been hurt by my honest confession of the scruples that had long prevented my forming any serious design. These bitter accusations might have been suppressed, had I with greater policy concealed my struggles, and flattered you into the belief of my being impelled by unqualified, unalloyed inclination -- by reason, by reflection, by every thing. But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related. They were natural and just. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?'”
Elizabeth felt herself growing angrier every moment. She cried out,
“My sister Jane, who has never done anything wrong to you or any soul… She is the sweetest person of my acquaintance… and my Aunt and Uncle Gardiner who are genteel and kind… They are much superior to your noble connections! What of your Aunt, sir? Lady Catherine insulted me at Rosings and in her letter sent to me before our wedding… She is rude and ill-mannered! My connections might be low… in your eyes… but to me, they are dearly loved ones, deserving of more praise than your own…”
Darcy stopped in front of her. His darkened countenance disturbed her. His sudden silence disturbed her. Elizabeth felt her mortification growing every moment. Yet, his next questions would affect her deeply.
“So this is your estimation of me…” he whispered more to himself. He lifted his tearful eyes to meet her gaze. “You don’t love me, madam… You actually married me for my money…” His disbelief still marred his voice. Suddenly the memory of Wickham’s encounter with Elizabeth at Longbourn crossed his mind. Her defence of him, her fierce interest in his “misfortune”… Could it be? Was it possible? Disgust showed on his face as he imagined the woman he loved, the woman he held passionately tonight was in love… with Wickham?
“Do you love him?” he frowned, letting jealousy getting his better judgment. “Is it Wickham you love? Answer me, Elizabeth!”
“ No! ” she cried vehemently. “I never cared for him!”
He closed his eyes in an attempt to control his emotions, as he noticed Elizabeth’s crumbling face. After a period of silence, broken only by their panting, he approached her and grabbed her face firmly. His intense gaze pierced her tearful eyes. He whispered desperately,
“You truly don’t love me? You…”A sob was caught in his throat. “B-but… I don’t understand… We… we have just loved each other… with such passion… You gave yourself to me?”
His confusion embarrassed her deeply. He struck her weakness. And thus she reacted… without thinking, uttering the words she would regret for the rest of her life:
“How can I? How can I love you, sir? You’ve made me your whore!”
Darcy flinched and immediately released her face. He took one long look at his wife. He was livid and deeply hurt he replied coldly,
“You have said quite enough, madam. I perfectly comprehend your feelings, and have now only to be ashamed of what my own have been. Forgive me for having… for being… for being such an unwanted part of your life. Good night.”
Silent tears were tumbling on his face as he ignored her sobbing and her whispered “I’m sorry”. He left the room without another word, without a glance.
Darcy was still stunned when the morning greeted Pemberley. He hadn’t slept at all. He had paced around in his room as a caged animal in fury. Her soft cries had filled his ears all night long, increasing his own despair. He hated her. He hated himself. He hated the absurd situation they were trapped in. He had separated Bingley from her sister to prevent him from a marriage without love. “How ironic, he voiced hurt, “they are the ones in love and unmarried. I ended up marrying a bride who doesn’t love me.” He winced as his frustration menaced spiralling anew inside him.
“This will not do! I can’t…” he rose frustrated and dashed to his washstand. The mirror cast the reflection of a desperate man in deep pain. Dark circles marred his tear strained face. Splashing cold water on it, he attempted to wash away his pain. “It’s useless…” he kept repeating to himself. He stared at the door that kept him from his wife. His wife… He groaned. They should be living the delightful intimacies of newlyweds and here he was… No, he corrected himself; here they were in a living hell. The sort of marriage he had always dreaded and condemned.
Panic filled his chest, rendering him breathless. He dressed in haste, not wishing to face his valet, and left his room towards the stables. He needed to breathe in the freedom of Pemberley’s grounds.
Elizabeth laid prostrated on her bed all night, unable to sleep and stop her tears. She cried and cried until her eyes could shed no more tears. She felt angry but full of remorse as well. How could she respect a man who willingly destroyed others’ chances of happiness? How would they live now that he knew how she felt? I had vowed to marry only for the deepest love… and I married for deepest despair… How she loathed herself for this and how she regretted having concealed her true feelings from him from the very beginning of their relationship!
A wave of panic flourished inside her. She felt weak, desperate and truly vulnerable. And no Jane to comfort her… And her father… Struggling to pull herself together, she rose from her bed. Only then did she realise that she was still nude which made her feel even more vulnerable. She grabbed her nightgown which had been discarded on the floor and donned it. She shivered as she recalled the passionate intimacy she had shared with Darcy that night… their first night at Pemberley. He had whispered to her that taking her there was as if they were living their wedding night again. All Darcy brides had been deflowered at Pemberley. She blushed violently when she thought that, for her, it had been her “first night” as well… for she had never imagined her body could respond to his in such an intense and passionate manner. She remembered suddenly how Darcy looked so satisfied when she had her pleasure… Shame filled her as she realised the contradiction between her feelings and her actions. How could she have been so wanton? How could her body betray her when she declared she didn’t love her husband? How could she face him now?
“What will he think of me? I cannot bear the idea that he thinks ill of me…” she murmured desperately. Flashes of their lovemaking refused to leave her memory, eclipsing their horrible argument. She had accused him of making her his “whore”. How she regretted those words… The look on his face… His pain was so intense that even in her fury she felt sorry for him. She had even wanted to touch him, to erase those horrible words…
“Too late… too late… Wretched… this is a wretched beginning, indeed…” she whispered sobbing. She admitted to herself that she was the one who had sold herself to him. It was her own doing if she was a wh--
Horrified with her own behaviour, she collapsed in her bed sobbing quite violently. She would not be able to face him. How could she look at him?
“What will become of us?” she whispered repeatedly until she fell asleep from pure emotional exhaustion. She didn’t even notice the daylight creeping in her room.
The couple avoided each other all day long. Darcy had his meals in complete solitude, except for the presence of their attentive and weary servants. Elizabeth kept to her rooms on the excuse of a severe headache.
This pattern would be firmly entrenched in their lives for the following days. Darcy kept to his study or the library, whilst Elizabeth had yet to set foot out of her bedchamber. A gloomy atmosphere surrounded Pemberley reflecting their master and mistress’s disposition. Mrs Reynolds was very upset with the Darcys’ demeanour. But she kept silent for she understood her young master’s need for his own privacy even if he was in grief. Perceptive to his needs and moods, the attentive housekeeper quickly understood that something very serious happened between the newlyweds. She longed to help them but she knew she couldn’t. Instead, she struggled to keep the servants’ gossips under strict control and to ensure a feigned peaceful environment in the household.
Darcy’s happiness had been shattered that night. He felt his desperation increase as each day passed on without being able to see her. A week, it had been a week since he last laid his eyes on her, touched her… He swallowed a sob and resolved to no longer shed any tears. How would they ever be able to live together again? She had refused to come down all week, repeatedly informing Mrs Reynolds that she was ill. He had imagined that she would refuse to see him but he had hoped she would come down for some meals at least. At least for propriety’s sake.
He had hoped to have her company for some time… He wanted to have a chance to look at her and talk to her… If she came to him… Then he would be given the chance to defend himself and assess her disposition. They had to try something… How could they go on living in complete misery? Darcy resolved that he should give her some space to acquaint herself with Pemberley and her new duties. He would have to leave. Perhaps time could heal the wounds they inflicted upon each other… She would conform… He flinched at the thought of that: Elizabeth conforming to their marriage… that would mar her liveliness, everything about her that he truly worshipped.
He would have to leave soon. He could not bear being close to her and not being able to hold her in his arms, touch her, love her… Yes, I must leave to London for some time.
He nursed his brandy for some time as he gazed into the darkness outside the library’s window. Sipping the cool fire, he strengthened his resolve to face her. Tonight, he thought, I need to see her. He needed to set things straight about Wickham, at least about that he could defend himself! He would tell her he would leave the next morning. Then she wouldn’t need to keep to her room in order to avoid him. It was clear to him that she couldn’t abide his presence. She wouldn’t need to stop living…
She curled herself in the settee gazing into the fire. Although it had been a warm day, Elizabeth felt cold. A chill had permeated her all day, all week long. Her supper remained untouched on the tray Mrs Reynolds had sent her. She would be upset, she thought, Sally would report to the housekeeper that once again she refused to eat. She sighed, closing her eyes and allowing her growing weakness envelop her. She was so lost in nursing her misery that she hadn’t heard him knocking on the door or even opening it.
He entered quietly, indulging himself for a few moments as he committed the sight to his memory. The untouched tray made him frown, worrying about her welfare. But then he gazed over her. The fire glowed around her. Her delicate white nightclothes rendered her figure soft and fragile… but lovely. His wife was truly beautiful… His wife… Elizabeth wasn’t his anymore… In fact, he frowned, she had never been his, had she? Had never been… He sighed deeply, trying to cast away his hurt.
He knocked on the door again and called her. “Mrs Darcy? Are you unwell?”
Startled, Elizabeth jumped to her feet. “Mr Darcy, wh—You frightened me, sir.”
“I did not mean to frighten you.” He pointed at the tray “You haven’t eaten…”
“No, I’m not hungry.” She answered softly facing the fireplace.
“Are you still unwell? Your headache?” he inquired worried, wondering if it would be wise to talk to her what he wanted to.
“I’m feeling better, thank you.” She was worried about his presence there. Was he expecting to spend the night with her? Was he expecting her favours? Her nervousness began to show, making Darcy realize that he should start talking before his resolve melted away.
Both depicted, remarkably well due to their circumstances, two civilized people. She struggled to keep her composure and nervousness under rule; he tried fiercely to control his feelings. They knew that they would both need to rein their emotions in order to face what would come. To determine would they should do. An awkward silence fell upon them. They dared not look in each other’s eyes. They feared taking the lead in this disturbing confrontation. It had been too long since they opened their hearts to each other. But even though a week had gone by, each day had scorched deeper in their minds the horrors of their last exchange.
Darcy didn’t know how to address her. His bitterness told him she didn’t deserve him, he should not trouble himself by giving her any explanations or even submitting himself to the torture of facing her. But his love for her tore his heart and overruled his mind. He observed her and recognized her nervousness and her distress. She looked very pale. She even seemed thinner and the dark circles beneath her eyes betrayed her restless nights. Her misery broke his heart… and his mind berated him for acknowledging it.
Elizabeth wasn’t faring any better. She was very nervous. She kept wondering why he finally came to her after a whole week. True, she mused, I’ve been expecting this every night. Had he come to her in expectation of sharing her bed? Despite all she accused him of that night, she knew in her heart that he would not force her into unwanted intimacy. She blushed as she thought of their past intimate exchanges. This is insufferable, she chastised herself and closing her eyes. I’m dreading his touch but I’m longing for it as well! This is so confusing! Trembling slightly, she raised her head and her eyes met his expectant gaze.
Withdrawing a shred of courage from her look, Darcy stated the purpose of his visit.
“Eli—Mrs Darcy, I fear… I fear we must have some conversation, madam. There are some things I need to explain to you.”
She sat down and gestured to invite him to take a seat as well. She watched him as he took the armchair opposite her. He looked tired and very pale. It was obvious to her that he hadn’t been sleeping as well. She had feared this encounter, as she expected him to be very angry at her. But, if he was, he was concealing it very well. He revealed his cool and aloof demeanour that she had grown accustomed to in the past.
“I know you do not wish to see me, but…” He stopped and looked at her to check if she would refuse to listen to him. Her silence propelled him to continue.
“Be not alarmed, Madam, by my presence. I don’t wish to repeat any of those sentiments, or renewal of intimacy which were so disgusting to you.”
Elizabeth flushed violently and stared at the fire unable to meet her husband’s face. Her hateful words pounded in her head. “How can I love you, sir? You’ve made me your whore!” How could she have uttered that? He would never be able to forgive me.
“… but you have also questioned my character and integrity. Therefore, I demand your attention; your feelings, I know, will bestow it unwillingly, but I demand it of your justice.”
He paused in order to collect himself, attempting to control his bitter resentment. “Two offences of a very different nature, and by no means of equal magnitude, you laid to my charge that night.”
She nodded in acquiescence but still refused to look at him.
“The first was, that, regardless of the sentiments of either, I had detached Mr. Bingley from your sister; -- and the other, that I had, in defiance of honour and humanity, ruined the immediate prosperity, and blasted the prospects of Mr. Wickham, the companion of my youth, the acknowledged favourite of my father, a young man who had scarcely any other dependence than on our patronage. Aren’t these the crimes that you accused me of, madam?”
“Yes, yes they are. And you didn’t deny them that night!” Her bottled anger quickly began to diffuse through her trembling body.
“Allow me to explain, Mrs Darcy. If, in the explanation of them which is due to myself, I am under the necessity of relating feelings which may be offensive to yours, I can only say that I am sorry. The necessity must be obeyed and farther apology would be absurd.”
Again she nodded her agreement in silence.
“I had not been long in Hertfordshire, before I saw, in common with others, that Bingley preferred your eldest sister to any other young woman in the country. I had often seen him in love before. At the Netherfield ball I realized that Bingley's attentions to your sister had given rise to a general expectation of their marriage. From that moment I observed my friend's behaviour attentively; and I could then perceive that his partiality for Miss Bennet was beyond what I had ever witnessed in him. Your sister I also watched.”
She swiftly looked at him with her cold eyes piercing his heart. He winced but he knew he had to continue.
“Her look and manners were open, cheerful, and engaging as ever, but without any symptom of peculiar regard, and I remained convinced from the evening's scrutiny, that though she received his attentions with pleasure, she did not invite them by any participation of sentiment. The… the serenity of your sister's countenance was such that I was soon convinced that her heart was not likely to be easily touched.”
“But you were wrong! Her heart is broken!”
“I’m sorry to hear that. It never was my intention to deliberately hurt anyone. I acted on my own conscious and upon my impartial conviction.”
“That was very presumptuous of you, Mr Darcy. How could you know what my sister’s feelings were towards Mr Bingley? Are you a mind reader, sir?” she added sarcastically.
“Of course not, madam! But if she truly loved Mr Bingley it would be noticeable to any, would it not?! Even later, Bingley recognised that he was uncertain as well regarding your sister’s affections to him”
“But she is shy, sir!” Elizabeth cried impatiently. “That does not mean her heart was untouched! That does not mean she does not feel deeply! And you, sir, would have certainly understood that! As far as I am concerned, I never perceived any affection from your part either! Your proposal to me in Kent was the most unexpected surprise I had ever received in my life! Your behaviour towards me to that date had convinced me only of your utter disregard for me.”
Darcy flinched and coloured upon hearing her outburst. She had never… she didn’t know he had been infatuated with her… That he had loved her almost from their first acquaintance? He closed his eyes and with deep breaths controlled the array of conflicting emotions that rushed through his mind.
“I apologize, madam. I must have been in an error. You, of course, have superior knowledge of your sister. I am sorry to have inflicted pain on her and on my friend. Your resentment has not been unreasonable. I only wished that my friend would not let himself into an unequal and unhappy marriage.”
“The truth is, Mr Darcy, you could only see your friend entering into degradation… You saw your friend attaching himself to an abhorrent family. Such low connections…” she snorted in disdain.
“You are mistaken, Mrs Darcy.” He quickly replied. “Despite my objections to the situation of your mother's family, it was nothing in comparison of that total want of propriety so frequently, so almost uniformly, betrayed by herself, by your younger sisters, and occasionally even by your late father.”
She stood up and her face revealed her uncontrolled anger. She was about to interrupt him when he raised his hand, showing her he wanted to continue.
“Allow me to finish, madam. Pardon me as it pains me to offend you. But you must recognize that the conduct of your family was reproachable. But let me give you at least some consolation that as far as you and Miss Jane are concerned, your conduct has always been above censure and the subject of high praises. I always admired you and your sister. And believe me, Mrs Darcy, that the primary reason why I interfered in this matter, was because I actually believed your sister was indifferent to my friend. If she loved him, your family’s improper conduct or poor connections would mean nothing.”
He stood up and approached a window facing the darkness outside. His shoulders sagged and his posture betrayed his despondency. His voice quivered,
“Let me remind you, that I married you for I believed we were both in love. Your family was an objection that I no longer held…” He coughed in an attempt to disguise an unwanted sob from being heard. Still facing the window, for he did not want her to see the unshed tears in his eyes, he continued his account describing their removal from Netherfield and the concealment of Jane’s presence in London from Bingley. Even knowing that she would never forgive him, he described to her how he concealed the news about her father’s death, the purchase of Netherfield and their wedding. “I know… I know this concealment, this disguise, was beneath me. It is done, however, and I did believe it was done for the best. On this subject I have nothing more to say, no other apology to offer. But I do want to assure you that I will reveal my actions to Bingley, even knowing for certain that I’ll lose his friendship.”
He turned to face her. But all he could see was her back. She stood in front of the fire. Her right hand was clutching the chair as she seemed to be holding on to it. He knew she was hurt by his actions and words. He knew she would never forgive him. And that knowledge cut him deeply in his heart. He must continue his confessions to her and he suddenly realised that his account of Wickham would certainly wound her even more. He could not ascertain what her feelings for that cad were. Could she be in love with him? He shuddered from the horror of that mere thought. But it was that doubt that had been gnawing his soul for the past week. He dreaded knowing the truth…
He slowly approached her. He touched her arm to interrupt her silence and oblivion to his presence. She startled and turned to face him. Her beautiful dark eyes were brimming with tears but her expression was a cold and angry one.
“I… I wish to retire, sir.” She muttered dropping her gaze to the ground.
He hesitated for a long moment. Perhaps he should leave as she certainly did not wish to endure his company any longer. But he needed to tell her about Wickham. He needed to learn if she loved him… The thought of that man emboldened his resolve to continue. And so, he disregarded her request.
“I’m sorry, madam, but we have not finished yet.”
She looked at him immediately and felt her anger rise. “I believe there is nothing further you can say to me, sir.”
“You are mistaken, Mrs Darcy. I have not started about Wickham yet. ” He replied coolly.
She took her former seat in the settee and looked at him expectantly. Her defiance written all over her face. Yes, Mr Darcy, she thought, let’s see how you will defend yourself on this matter!
“I do not know how he imposed himself on you. I-I fear you will be disappointed when you learn the truth about your protégé… Forgive me, but your interest in this man…” he stopped unable to express his greatest concern.
“I assure you, Mr Darcy, I have never felt anything for Mr Wickham except for an uninterested friendship. He is an amiable and agreeable young man… and we were fortunate enough to become fast friends.” A smirk twisted her lips as she thought unlike certain persons of my acquaintance!
“You should not count him as a friend, madam! I don’t know what lies he told you… You knew he was the son of my father’s steward, a very respectable man?”
She nodded affirmatively.
“Out of great respect to the old Mr Wickham, my father supported George at school, and afterwards at Cambridge. My father was not only fond of his society, whose manners were always engaging; he had also the highest opinion of him, and hoping the church would be his profession, intended to provide for him in it. Was this his account to you, madam?”
“Yes, Mr Wickham told me he was intended for the church. But you refused to oblige your father’s dying wishes, didn’t you?” she added resentfully.
“I see. Here again I shall give you pain -- to what degree you only can tell. But whatever may be the sentiments which Mr. Wickham has created, a suspicion of their nature shall not prevent me from unfolding his real character. It adds even another motive.”
She was about to protest again that her feelings for Wickham were not of a tender nature. But he wouldn’t give her any time to do it. He continued on with his voice filled with hurt and resentment.
“My father died about five years ago; and his attachment to Mr Wickham was to the last so steady, that in his will he particularly recommended it to me to promote his advancement in the best manner that his profession might allow, and, if he took orders, desired that a valuable family living might be his as soon as it became vacant. There was also a legacy of one thousand pounds. I must say that Wickham’s next actions would appease my conscience for I knew him too well. I knew he would not be a proper clergyman for his vicious nature would only bring misfortunes to the parish which would have been bestowed upon him. He contacted me to inform me that he had resolved against taking orders, he hoped I should not think it unreasonable for him to expect some more immediate pecuniary advantage, in lieu of the living. He had some intention of studying the law, and that the interest of one thousand pounds would be a very insufficient support in that. I rather wished than believed him to be sincere so agreed to his proposal and granted him three thousand pounds. Thus he resigned all claim to assistance in the church, this fact he seems to have omitted to you.”
He paused as he observed his wife. A frown marked her countenance. She remained silent though.
“All connections between us were then dissolved. I believe he lived in town and that his studying the law was a mere pretence. He was then free from all restraint and his life had become a life of idleness and dissipation. For about three years I heard little of him until the rector of the living that was meant for him died. The scoundrel actually believed that I would present him the living in question. He had found the law a most unprofitable study, and was now absolutely resolved on being ordained. He was convinced that I would accept his request… But I did not. You will hardly blame me for refusing to comply with this entreaty! But if you wish for proof, I have documents to prove my claims, madam.”
She denied softly any need to prove his accounts. Silently she watched him as his demeanour darkened suddenly. His tone changed to a darker one. He started pacing restlessly betraying his distress. Elizabeth wondered if there could be more about Wickham to embarrass her. For she was deeply embarrassed. She knew enough of her husband to recognise his generous and kind character. Had he not taken care of her own family in the most generous gesture? And he had never even voiced any gratification in return? She now knew she had been foolish to believe Wickham’s falsehoods.
“I must now mention a circumstance which I would wish to forget myself. Last summer Wickham crossed my path again in the most painfully manner.” He paused to gain control of his emotions. “As my wife, you are entitled to know. And I feel no doubt of your secrecy. As you know, Georgiana was left to the guardianship of Colonel Fitzwilliam and myself. About a year ago, she was taken from school, and an establishment formed for her in London; and last summer she went with Mrs. Younge, the lady who presided over it, to Ramsgate. Unknown to me, Wickham had also gone there undoubtedly by design. I had later found out that there was a prior acquaintance between him and Mrs. Younge, in whose character we were most unhappily deceived. Both conspired to deceive Georgiana and convince her to believe that they were in love. My sister’s affectionate heart was easily persuaded as she still retained a strong impression of his kindness to her as a child. Hence she consented to an elopement. She was then but fifteen…”
He paused and looked at her. Elizabeth was astonished. Her face was livid.
“She was only fifteen, a child! Fortunately for her, I joined them unexpectedly a day or two before the intended elopement. There is not a day, Elizabeth, that I do not pray to G-d, thanking Him, for my prompt arrival. I was able to stop her imprudence. Georgiana, unable to support the idea of grieving and offending a brother whom she almost looked up to as a father, acknowledged the whole to me. You may imagine what I felt and how I acted. Regard for my sister's credit and feelings prevented any public exposure. I immediately arranged to get Wickham out of Ramsgate , and Mrs. Younge was of course removed from her charge.”
“Why?” Elizabeth murmured softly. “Why would he do such a thing to a sweet young girl as Georgiana?”
“Wickham knows me too well. Wickham's chief object was unquestionably my sister's fortune, which is thirty thousand pounds. But I cannot help supposing that the hope of revenging himself on me was a strong inducement. His revenge would have been complete indeed if he had succeeded.”
The pain in his voice touched her heart. But her own misery overwhelmed her. How foolish she had been! How could she let herself be deceived by such a man! Unable to control her feelings any longer she started crying, hiding her face in her hands.
He quickly stopped himself from rushing towards her. How he wished to hold her in his arms and kiss her pain away! But he couldn’t force his attentions on her. He was certainly unwanted. Instead, he told her,
“Don’t distress yourself, madam. He is a master of disguise. You could not have known about his vicious character.”
Elizabeth met his concerned eyes and replied bitterly “True, but I despise myself nevertheless… I have always prided myself in being capable of judging people’s characters. I have been very foolish indeed…”
The silence that filled the room left them both vulnerable and uncomfortable. They knew there was more to be said between them. But neither could do it. As each minute passed by, their forbearance diminished and the awkwardness increased. Darcy determined that it would be for the best to leave her to her thoughts. He would impose himself no longer.
“Good night.” He said softly and quickly withdrew to his room before giving her the chance to say anything.
Elizabeth remained in her seat staring at the door that concealed her husband from her. She stared for a long time as the tears flowed freely down her cheeks.