Posted on Saturday, 19-Sep-98
fter almost six years of marriage, Elizabeth Darcy bore her fourth child but this one was born too soon and lived but a few hours, just barely long enough to be christened James. Only Darcy, his friend Charles Bingley and Charles' wife Jane, Elizabeth's sister, saw the tiny baby buried on a perversely sunny, warm July day. Elizabeth was still too weak and distraught and could not leave her bed.
Returning to his wife's bed chamber after the burial, Darcy was relieved to see her asleep. The doctor had supplied Elizabeth with sleeping draughts which had been administered to her an hour ago. She would sleep for several more hours, at least. He went upstairs to the nursery. Jane and Charles were there already attending to the three Darcy children.
After kissing each of his children, four-year old Anne, three-year old Fitzwilliam and 10-month old Robert, he asked his friend Bingley to come with him to his library. Darcy felt sorely in need of a drink and some company.
"It is a terrible thing, a terrible thing to lose a child," Bingley said as his friend poured brandy. "But Darcy, you will go on. And in time, you'll have more children."
"She does not want any more children. She told me so herself."
"Of course she feels that way now. But just wait and see. Why in another year I would not be surprised to see another Darcy baby bouncing on your knee."
Darcy shot him a withering look.
"Of course," a chastised Bingley continued. "Perhaps three children is more than enough." Bingley sighed. Cheerfulness was Bingley's natural disposition but comforting his friend was perhaps more than even he could handle.
Jane stayed at Pemberley for six weeks. During that time, her sister regained her strength but not her spirits. Elizabeth spent her days in the nursery with her children. She could not be persuaded to go anywhere else but the garden and even then it was only when the children were taking their air.
To see his wife, Darcy had no choice but to come to her. On a warm September morning when he knew his two eldest were outside, he entered the nursery with the newly arrived post. He stopped short in astonishment when he found Elizabeth nursing Robert, now one year old.
"Lizzy, what are you doing?"
Elizabeth looked up defiantly at him. "I am nursing my son."
"Where is Mrs. Brewster? What do we pay her for?"
"Are you so concerned about money?" she snorted.
Her husband was speechless.
"My dear," Elizabeth sighed. "It comforts me to let Robert have Jamie's milk."
Darcy shook his head. He knew it was useless to argue with his wife. Handing the salver of letters to his wife, he walked to the window and looked out.
"How do you expect me to open these letters with this child in my arms? Please open them for me," Elizabeth snapped.
Wordlessly, Darcy opened each letter and handed the first to his wife.
After quickly scanning it, Elizabeth dropped it back on the salver. "Mrs. Bradbury invites us to The Grange for a hunting party next month. We can not go to that. Oh, you may go, if you like."
"I have no wish to," Darcy spoke sullenly. He handed the second to her.
"Aunt Gardiner asks if we would like her to come for a visit this month." Elizabeth thought for a moment. "I really have no desire for company. I will thank her kindly but will try to postpone it for a later time."
"Your aunt only wishes to be of use to you."
"I much prefer to be myself." She took the third letter from him. It was a longer letter but after finishing it, she dropped that one on the salver as well.
"Kitty is expecting another baby. It appears she could not wait to tell me. She never did have much consideration."
"That is very happy news for the Laurences. The world does go on, Elizabeth."
"Don't say that! That is the worst possible thing anyone could say to me when in fact the world has stopped for me!"
"You are not the only woman in the world who has lost a child!" Darcy was getting angry. "And I have lost a child too!"
"How dare you say that? It is not the same for you. You did not carry the child for months. You can not know how I feel."
Darcy quickly regretted his anger when he saw the tears come back into his wife's eyes. He sighed and paced the floor, then returned to her side and knelt down.
"I am sorry, Elizabeth. As tortured as I feel, I know you must feel that much worse."
He was relieved to see a tender smile from her.
"Lizzy, let us go to town. I have work that needs to be done there. We will go with all the children and spend the fall and winter there. It is too quiet here. We need some life to bring us out of ourselves."
Elizabeth did not lose her smile as she gently declined. "It may be a good thing for you to go, my dear, but I can not leave. I can not leave little Jamie by himself. Go, go to town and get your work done there. I am perfectly fine here with the children."
Darcy wearily stood. "I will not leave you here."
"But I want you to go."
Her husband shook his head in frustration and was silent some moments. "Very well, then. I will go."
Posted on Sunday, 20-Sep-98
Heading down the long hill from the house, Darcy kept his eyes straight ahead. He had entered the nursery before the sun to rest a kiss on each of his sleeping children's brows. Outside of Elizabeth's bedroom door he had paused. His wife had bade him farewell the evening before. Darcy could not detect a hint of regret in her eyes as she kissed him lightly on the mouth and then slipped out of the library to retire for the night. As quickly as he put his hand on the doorknob to enter her chambers, he just as rapidly removed it and walked down the hallway toward the stairs and his waiting carriage.
Elizabeth had slept poorly. She was awake when she heard her husband in his dressing room preparing for his journey to London. She had even ventured out of bed and rested her hand on the latch of the door which connected her room to his. But something prevented her from opening it. Was it pride? hurt? fear? She softly padded back to bed. When she could detect no more movement from the other side of the door, she let the tears come again. She could not believe he had actually left.
Ever since he had arrived in London one week ago, Darcy had taken supper at his club rather than eat alone in the large dining room in Berkeley Square. Here he could listen with amusement to the brash boastings from the young bachelors and the wistful remembrances from the fraternity of older members who had either never married or who had lived beyond the endurance of their wives. Darcy imagined he was the only married man eating at the club and sometimes allowed himself to feel a bit sorry for himself. So it was with some relief mixed with curiosity that he spied Randolph Benedict settling himself down before some cold mutton. In spite of his mixed feelings for the man, Darcy rose and went to Benedict's single table to greet him.
"Upon my word," Benedict said as he saw Darcy moving toward him. He rose to shake Darcy's hand. "I had heard you were in town but didn't quite believe you would be here without your faithful wife."
"We thought it best this time for her to stay at Pemberley."
Benedict flushed suddenly and muttered, "Of course, of course, so sorry..."
Darcy had had enough of well meaning condolences and waved Benedict's off.
"Well, then, come on, man. If you are dining, come and dine with me." Benedict sat down again and motioned for a footman to bring another chair.
While Darcy's meal was brought to him, the two gentlemen discussed some of the events of the day. Being from the same class, it was not surprising that they shared many of the same opinions on broader topics of politics and economics. It was only on the more personal subjects, did their differences collide so Darcy tried to stay on neutral ground as much as possible. Still, politeness demanded he inquire after Benedict's wife.
"And how is Mrs. Benedict?"
"She is quite well. Caroline has been trying for days to find out what you've been doing here in London. So you see, she is the same as ever. You know I must ask you to come for supper and cards or some such entertainment one of these evenings. She will not let me rest until I do, once she finds out I have seen you. And she will find out."
"In truth, Benedict, an evening away from this club would be very welcome indeed. Mrs. Benedict may leave her card with my footman anytime she wishes."
Posted on Sunday, 20-Sep-98
Caroline Benedict left her card in Berkeley Square the very next day along with an invitation for Mr. Darcy to come for some supper and genial conversation the next Friday. Darcy accepted with more alacrity than usual for occasions such as these. Then he proceeded to write his wife of his upcoming plans knowing that this might put a smile on Elizabeth's face. The knowledge that Caroline Benedict, nee Bingley, could not keep her nose out of the affairs of the Darcys had been a secret amusement for husband and wife since their wedding day.
Friday evening found Darcy at the door of the Benedicts' townhouse. He had been led to believe the gathering would be a small affair but he noticed by the hubbub within that Caroline had understated herself again. There were at least 15 people already gathered in the drawing room when Darcy was ushered in. He recognized only a few.
"My dear Mr. Darcy!" Caroline cooed as she swooped in to greet him. Her eyes lit up as Darcy bowed low over her hand but to her disappointment, did not kiss it. "I have been so eager to see you. The town is all abuzz that you are in London." She then lowered her voice and in a dramatic sotto voice said, "And of course I am so sorry about your loss."
Her sad expression was genuine so Darcy murmured his thanks and attempted to quickly move the conversation forward to brighter things.
"Your circle of friends is ever widening, Mrs. Benedict. You must be the most popular hostess in London."
"Oh, silly," Caroline snorted, very pleased, as she playfully tapped him on the cheek with her fan. "But I do pride myself on a fine soiree. I know you do not like strangers but you must let me show you off to my friends. It never hurts one's reputation to have as many handsome single men as one can to one's parties."
Darcy pulled back slightly. "I thank you for the compliment, but I would not call myself handsome and I certainly would not call myself single."
Caroline ignored him as she held his elbow and guided him through the room, stopping here and flitting there. Darcy had hoped to be able to eat before being subjected to such demands as this but resigned himself to playing his role and greeted the Benedicts' acquaintances with his customary aloof good manners.
"And this," Caroline announced with pride, "is Mr. Darcy, Anya. The man I have been telling you about. Mr. Darcy, may I present Mrs. van Ruyven. She is from Amsterdam but has been living in London for almost one year now."
Mrs. van Ruyven had been sitting on a couch with a woman Darcy vaguely remembered but her name escaped him as he felt himself focusing entirely on the most beautiful green eyes he had ever seen. As the Dutch woman raised her hand in greeting, Darcy found himself kissing it in the formal, continental style, something he had only ever done with his wife. Caroline, who had not been as successful with her hand, narrowed her eyes.
"Mrs. van Ruyven," Darcy murmured. The eyes were not the only captivating feature of Anya van Ruyven as Darcy also took in her pale blonde hair, ivory skin and softly curving shoulders revealed by her daring gown.
"Mr. Darcy, I am so charmed to meet you." Mrs. van Ruyven's voice was low and sultry and her clipped accept was most pleasing to the ear. She continued to smile up at him as Caroline rattled on about Anya's reason for being in London. Her husband had died last year and, not having children or other family of her own, and not being very fond of her late husband's family, she decided to start a new life with the estate her husband had left her from his gems fortune. As a matter of fact, the emerald necklace around her long white neck was a perfect match to her eyes, something Darcy also could not help noticing.
"Come, Darcy, how about a drink before dinner?" Randolph Benedict had come up behind the little group and shaken Darcy from his reverie.
"Yes, certainly, if you'll excuse me." Darcy bowed to the ladies and left the room with his host and several other gentlemen.
"I have a fine madeira here, Darcy," Benedict said, pouring a glass. In a lower voice, he continued, "Mrs. van Ruyven is a fine piece of art, is she not?"
Darcy was not sure how to answer this but Benedict went on. "How she captivated Caroline, I'll never know. My wife is not one to put up with beautiful women in her house. Not that she has anything to worry about with me." Here Benedict guffawed. "I suppose Caroline considers it daring and a bit bohemian to have Mrs. van Ruyven for a friend even though she's not even English. The lady has had at least one lover already since she's been in London."
The image of Anya's green eyes had worn off Darcy by now. This gossip being beneath him, he quickly changed the subject to horses of which the gentlemen spoke most animatedly until supper was announced.
Posted on Monday, 21-Sep-98
When the gentlemen returned to the drawing room where the ladies had gathered after supper, card tables were set up and couples arranged themselves for games of casino and loo. Darcy considered taking his leave early but found his attention drawn to the pianoforte in the corner where Mrs. van Ruyven had settled herself upon much prodding from her hostess. She proceeded to entertain Caroline's assembled guests by playing and singing Dutch folk songs. Her voice was an unusual contralto, smokey in timbre and very engaging. Darcy was amused to see more than one gentleman gather round Mrs. van Ruyven jostling each other for a spot in front of those green eyes.
A young gentleman Darcy had been introduced to earlier, a John Pool, sat across from Darcy, nodded his head at the focus of all the attention and said, "She is absolutely captivating, is she not?"
Darcy merely smiled.
"And so lovely. Look at those fellows trying to get her attention. She will charm each one and each one will think he has won a special favor from her."
"That is an art most women own," Darcy put in thinking of his own Elizabeth. "I believe having it is a necessity to survive in London society."
Pool went on without paying much mind to Darcy. "There is something about a woman from the continent. A sophistication our English women can not hope to acquire."
Darcy tried to hide his smile. "Of course, Mrs. van Ruyven is, or was, a married woman. I believe a certain level of sophistication is acquired from that position, English or not."
"No, I think it is not the same thing. A woman like that, married or not, can draw a man to her side with nothing more than a look or a smile, yet she is direct. Not shy and coy like our English roses or loud and obtrusive like the matrons here." Pool was derisive.
"Perhaps it is the accent," Darcy teased. He was amused by Pool's naivetÚ.
"Perhaps it is the accent that makes continental women appear so different. I detect no other reason."
Before Pool had a chance to respond, hearty applause sounded as Mrs. van Ruyven completed her performance. Mr. Pool jumped up to greet her at the pianoforte where he ostentatiously kissed her hand.
Benedict sat down in the chair recently vacated by Pool. "Her lover, I hear," he said with a nod of his head in Pool's direction.
"That callow youth?" Darcy snorted. "I would imagine he'll be devoured in no time."
"I would imagine you're right. I understand the lady has a hearty appetite."
The chairs around Darcy and Benedict were now being filled by those who had earlier arranged themselves around the pianoforte. Mrs. van Ruyven was among them and soon Darcy found himself staring at those eyes again. He managed to pull his gaze away when Pool appeared at her side and hovered over her, leaning down to whisper to her occasionally.
"Mr. Darcy," Mrs. van Ruyven was suddenly speaking to him. "I understand you are alone in London. Tell me, what does a married man do to fill his time when away from his family?'
"He spends his time at business or at his club."
"And counts the days until he can return to his wife," Benedict put in.
A few laughs from other gentlemen were heard at this but Darcy's face remained blank.
"There is no other entertainment to fill the time until he can return to his wife?" she asked. "You are here tonight, Mr. Darcy. So I see you are not averse to more pleasant pursuits."
"I am never averse to spending evenings with friends in charming company."
"I will hope that I am included in that charming company."
"Of course," Darcy nodded.
"Even if I am a bit different because of my accent?"
Darcy looked at Pool who was smiling smugly at him. "Your accent is indeed engaging. But your many other accomplishments make you charming company as well."
Darcy was feeling very uncomfortable with this exchange as everyone looked on. He felt he was being trapped and could only extricate himself with compliments to the lady that he never would have so readily given. But anything less would have been insulting to her.
Mrs. van Ruyven seemed to be reading his mind. She reached over and tapped his leg with her fan very lightly and very quickly . "I am not looking for compliments, Mr. Darcy, as much as I like to hear them. I only hope we shall be friends while you are in town. You must not spend so much time at business or your club, but must come to the theatre and the opera. I am there all the time and it gives me great comfort. I do not wish for you to be lonely away from your wife."
Darcy smiled as rose. "I thank you for your concern, Mrs. van Ruyven. Perhaps I shall take your advice but for now, I must leave. Business calls me very early tomorrow morning."
As he saw her raised hand, he debated simply shaking it but gave an inward shrug and bent down to her. As he kissed it, he heard her speak lowly, "You are very handsome when you smile."
Darcy gave a quick look at those flashing eyes, then looked quickly at the surrounding company. Only Pool looked suspicious. With another flash of his dimples (why had he done that, he berated himself), he turned to find his hostess to bid her good night.
Posted on Tuesday, 22-Sep-98
Returning to his home later the next afternoon, Darcy was pleased to see a letter from Elizabeth. Quickly scanning it, he saw it was not very long but he settled himself into a chair, preparing himself for anything.
The children were well, the estate was running smoothly despite the master's departure. Elizabeth had been forced into a promise by her sister Jane to take the older children to the Bingleys for an autumn celebration and bonfire in a week's time. She was not looking forward to it and would not spend more than one night away from home, but Annie and Will were eager to go. She was returning to her normal habit of walking outdoors every day but still felt a melancholy and was not good company for anyone, so it was best that he stay in London a bit longer. She signed her letter with love.
Darcy sighed as he folded up her letter. He pondered the wisdom of returning to Pemberley before his wife bade him home. It was his home, his family, he should return when he wished. Yet he felt it was not unreasonable to indulge his wife's feelings a few weeks more. It surely would not be for much longer. He would stay in London until she asked for him to return. Why, he might even go to the theatre or the opera.
Calling on the Benedicts one day, he found only Caroline at home. She was pleased to see her old friend and scolded the footman to bring the coffee in with greater dispatch.
"Caroline, I am considering the opera next week. I would like you and Benedict to be my guests."
"Oh, Fitzwilliam," Caroline fluttered. "You know I would change any plans to accompany you. Any plans but one, I am afraid. My husband insists on going to the country in October and we are to leave on Monday. I can't imagine why he thinks he must shoot at birds this time every year but it is one indulgence I can not break him of. I have managed to break all of his others."
"Well, we have to leave him one indulgence, I suppose." Darcy smiled, wondering if Caroline had indeed broken Benedict of his fondness for wine, cigars, and pretty women. "I am sorry to hear I can not persuade you to come. I hate to go alone."
"Perhaps the Granthams may go. No, that will not do. I have heard they have already left for the country. The Polks do not have a house. Oh, but they have been invited to Chatfield Hall this autumn. Hmm, well the Hursts are still in town."
Darcy declined Caroline's offer to get in touch with her sister Louisa and her husband to accompany him to the opera. He wished the Benedicts a good journey and returned home.
Darcy had convinced himself he'd rather stay home than go to the opera alone but at the last moment, called his man to help him dress for an evening on the town. He had been alone too long.
Once there, he scanned the boxes for familiar faces. He had not bothered with a box for himself but had a seat on the floor with many other single men. He soon noticed that many of the men were looking up at a box to his left. Following their gazes, he found himself looking into the green eyes of Anya van Ruyven. It was too late to pull away for she was looking directly at him. They nodded at each other, then Darcy turned his attention to the stage where the performance of Don Giovanni was about to begin.
It was only a few moments later when a livery clad attendant pulled at his sleeve and handed him a note. Anya was asking him to join her and her party in their box. Darcy quickly looked back at Anya's box but could not see who was in her party. He again scanned the seats on the floor. Seeing no one that he knew very well, he nodded at the attendant and rose to find his way to Mrs. van Ruyven's box.
Whispered greetings and introductions were hurriedly exchanged when Darcy arrived. He declined a seat in the front of the box, leaving those three for Mrs. van Ruyven, her friend Rebecca Lord and John Pool. Darcy sat in the back with Mr. Morrison Lord. During the first act, Darcy found himself marveling at what he was doing here in this box with these strangers. He knew nothing of the Lords or of Pool and what he knew of Mrs. van Ruyven was not very flattering to her. He wondered if he could make a gracious escape before the second act.
Opera had never been one of Darcy's grand passions so he continued to let his mind and eyes wander from the stage. They both were continually drawn to the long, exposed white neck of Mrs. van Ruyven. Fair tendrils snaked down, caressing it. Long earbobs grazed it when Anya would turn her head to her left or right. Once, Anya turned directly around to appraise Darcy. He looked guiltily away as if caught in some small crime but willed himself to return her gaze a moment later. Only when John Pool also turned back, did Anya return her attention to the opera.
During intermission, Pool hurriedly left the box to find refreshment for Mrs. van Ruyven. The Lords also hastily retreated, mumbling something about another engagement. Darcy, who had been hoping to find a graceful exit, felt obliged to wait with Anya at least until Pool returned.
"Is not Herr Mozart's work exquisite, Mr. Darcy?" Anya asked with a smile in her eyes.
"I confess I know not much of music but I can say I know of no equal to this composer. Is he a favorite of yours?"
"There are very few composers who can fill me with such feeling - passion I think is the right word. This particular work is one of my favorites. I am one of the few people who actually take pity on the Don."
"You have a sensitive nature, Mrs. van Ruyven?" Darcy was well aware that the character Don Giovanni was a charming but ruthless nobleman who stopped at nothing to satisfy his sexual appetite but chose to gloss over the lady's self-comparison.
"Down to my fingertips, Mr. Darcy. I like nothing better than to be surrounded by beautiful things - music, art, people... I have been privileged to travel through much of the Continent to see the pleasures there. Have you been to the continent, Mr. Darcy?"
Darcy admitted that he had.
"Oh!" Anya exclaimed. "Then you have been to Italy, my favorite place in all the world. Tell me of your travels, I want to hear all about them. Where did you go? What did you see?"
When Pool returned with champagne for Anya, he found Darcy sitting next to her, deep in conversation with the delectable Mrs. van Ruyven. Anya absentmindedly took the glass Pool offered her, barely taking her eyes off Darcy's face. When the curtain rose again, Darcy remained seated by Anya's side.
Posted on Wednesday, 23-Sep-98
Jane entered the drawing room of her Cheshire house and was pleased to see Elizabeth sitting quietly at the window, working on some needlepoint. Jane had managed to convince her sister to stay more than one night for the celebration Charles always held on his grounds each autumn to reward the farmers for their hard work and good harvest. Though Elizabeth and her children were to return to Pemberley tomorrow, it appeared that the week in Cheshire had worked some good. Elizabeth smiled more, engaged in conversation with others besides her sister, and spent less time alone in her room.
Still, Jane was nervous at some news she had to give her sister. A letter had arrived from the Hursts two days ago. Shocked at the news it contained, Jane asked her husband to delve into the matter. Now Jane had the truth.
"Lizzy, I have some news from London. You had better hear it from me than untruths from nosy gossips."
Elizabeth looked up from her work with a ready laugh. "Jane, you know I love a good gossip. Who is being talked of?"
"I am afraid it is Fitzwilliam."
"The Colonel? Poor Thomas, he will never be left alone until he finds a wife."
"No, Lizzy, your husband Fitzwilliam."
The smile faded from Lizzy's lips. "Who is gossiping about my husband?"
"Well, I received a letter from Louisa Hurst and..."
"Oh, is that all." Lizzy laughed again. "Has Fitzwilliam been seen in the company of Caroline and all the town is abuzz?"
"Let me tell you the truth and then I shall tell you the gossip which is false, of course. Fitzwilliam went to the opera last Wednesday and sat in a box with a Mrs. van Ruyven and a John Pool. Another couple were there as well but left during the performance."
"Who are Mrs. van Ruyven and John Pool?"
"I do not rightly know. They are friends of the Benedicts so you can be sure they are of good social standing. Apparently, Fitzwilliam became acquainted with them at a supper Caroline gave."
"And so they went to the opera together."
Elizabeth felt vaguely uncomfortable but trusted her husband's judgment of people so could not define the reason for her discomfort.
"And the gossip is...?" Elizabeth prompted.
Jane cleared her throat. "That John Pool is Mrs. van Ruyven's lover and became highly incensed over the attention Fitzwilliam paid to Mrs. van Ruyven at the opera and has challenged your husband to a duel."
Elizabeth jumped from her seat, knocking her linen to the ground. "That is idiotic. Fitzwilliam would never... A duel? Of course he could never be acquainted with such..."
It was a rare sight to see Jane's sister at a loss for words. Jane hurriedly soothed her, "I asked Charles to find out the truth when Louisa related this dreadful gossip to me. He immediately sent word to several people he knows in town who have all corroborated the real truth. There was nothing more sinister than being in the box with them and there is certainly no duel. Mr. Pool may be the lover of Mrs. van Ruyven but..."
"That is nonsense. Fitzwilliam would never associate with people like that if it were so."
"Of course not," Jane agreed.
"I am sure they are very respectable people."
Of course they are."
"A duel. How ridiculous."
Elizabeth picked up her needlepoint and sat down. It was some time before she was able to concentrate again on her work.
It was with some guilt that Darcy found the Gardiners' card among the others left at his house while he was out one afternoon. He should have called on his wife's relations first to let them know he was in town. Instead, they had found from other sources that their nephew had been in London for some time now.
The very next day, Darcy returned the Gardiners' call, much to the joy of Mrs. Gardiner. Elizabeth was her favorite niece and she was eager for news on the state of her health. Darcy was able to report that Elizabeth was physically very well, but under Aunt Gardiner's gentle probing, he found himself telling her all his worries and frustrations about the state of her spirits.
"This is your greatest trial. Lizzy will never forget this sad event, but she will recover. Her children and her own strength will make her well again. But you should be with her too."
"Elizabeth feels she needs to be away from me during this time. I must not be what she needs." Darcy felt ashamed for feeling sorry for himself.
"And you? How do you recover? I am conscious of the loss shown in your face. Why do you not go home - to Pemberley?"
"Because my wife does not want me to be there."
Aunt Gardiner pursed her lips and said no more. But she resolved to write to Elizabeth to give her some advice. Fitzwilliam Darcy, despite his imposing appearance, looked fragile and vulnerable. Being away from his family was not doing him any good. In the meantime, the Gardiners would try to keep him occupied.
The eldest Gardiner daughter, Lucy, had recently become engaged to Thomas Richardson, the eldest son of the Richardsons of Mitford Hall in Surrey. A ball was being held a the Richardson's country estate. Mrs. Gardiner wrote to Mrs. Richardson suggesting her nephew be invited. She planned to convince him the country would be a welcome diversion from London.
Posted on Thursday, 24-Sep-98
With his resistance to going to the Richardsons soon worn down by Aunt Gardiner, Darcy did agree to attend them to Surrey. He was getting bored in London and looked forward to a few days away.
He traveled by horseback alongside the Gardiner carriage. The two youngest children remained in town, but Lucy, the radiant bride-to-be, and her brother Edward were eager for the ball and could not get to Surrey quickly enough.
Other guests were also staying at Mitford Hall for the great party. Even though Darcy had been hastily added to the group of guests, a sumptuous bed chamber has been prepared for him which held a view of the sloping lawns which rolled down to a hedge maze behind the house.
Returning downstairs for a light supper with his hosts, Darcy was introduced to the other guests. It was with some shock that he found himself before the green eyes of Anya van Ruyven.
"Yes, we are old friends," Anya said to her hosts. "Mr. Darcy, I do not believe we ever finished discussing our travels."
"Mine were so long ago, it takes great effort to bring them to mind again."
"I shall be sure to earn that effort. Are you here with your wife? I am so eager to meet her."
"I am afraid my wife still remains in Derbyshire. However, may I introduce you to Mrs. and Mr. Gardiner, my wife's aunt and uncle."
Mrs. van Ruyven graciously greeted Darcy's relations. Mrs. Gardiner herself was very interested in meeting the Dutch woman. She had heard some gossip in town about the lady, some gossip that involved Mr. Darcy which had led her initially to seek her nephew out. She was intrigued to find Mrs. van Ruyven before her now.
After supper, Mrs. Gardiner tried to find from her host how Mrs. van Ruyven came to be among the guests.
"My husband's brother went to Cambridge with Mr. van Ruyven," Mrs. Richardson said. "We have never met either Mrs. van Ruyven nor her late husband but my husband took pity on her when he heard she was living alone, widowed in London, and thought she would be a charming member of our party. Perhaps we may even match her with a gentleman at the ball. Who do you think would do?" Mrs. Richardson asked with a smile.
The Gardiners felt some unease having Darcy under the same roof with Mrs. van Ruyven though they could not place the reason why. Mr. Gardiner managed to keep Darcy out of her company their first evening at Mitford Hill by engaging the gentlemen in a game of ecarte away from the ladies. The next morning, he proposed that Darcy join some of the other male guests in a ride across Mr. Richardson's extensive property.
Returning in the late morning, Darcy changed clothes and entered the drawing room where the Gardiners were assembled along with other guests, Mrs. van Ruyven among them. Not feeling the same unease the Gardiners had, Darcy sat next to Anya and was quickly engaged in conversation.
"That was a spirited horse you were riding this morning," Mr. Bell called out to Darcy.
"One of my prize stallions," Mr. Richardson proudly said. "I pride myself on having the finest horses in Surrey. I discerned that you, Mr. Darcy, were an admirer of fast horses and you proved me right. Not everyone can ride Mephistopheles."
"I am honored, sir, that you bestowed that favor upon me. He was a pleasure to ride."
"That is something, gentlemen, that I envy," Mrs. van Ruyven boldly entered the conversation. "A lady must sit side saddle and move ever so sedately over the ground. All she truly wants to do is sit on a horse like a man and fly as fast as she can. Why is it only men who can charge headlong over fields and meadows? I wish to know the thrill of that sort of ride."
"Mrs. van Ruyven, you are delightful," Mr. Richardson chuckled. "But a woman is not physically capable of such a challenging endeavor. It takes great strength to hold onto that beast and to control it. A strength women, in God's ultimate wisdom, will never possess."
"Oh, but Mr. Richardson, a woman already has that strength. Who among us can not say women control men. And I know of no more wild beast than man."
There was a tittering among the ladies and looks of shock from some of the gentlemen.
"I am sorry. Perhaps my English is wrong? Mr. Darcy, can you help me?"
"I believe you expressed yourself exactly as you wished, Mrs. van Ruyven." Darcy could not help but smile.
"Ah, a man who understands me," Mrs. van Ruyven smiled back.
Mrs. Gardiner stood whispering to her daughter in the corner of the room. Lucy looked confused, but nodded and as Mrs. Gardiner sat down again, Lucy rose and announced, "Mama, I would like to walk with Thomas. Will you accompany us, Mama?"
"Oh, my dear, not just yet. But perhaps Mr. Darcy will go with you both." Lucy and Mrs. Gardiner turned to Fitzwilliam.
He looked up, confused. What? He was being asked to chaperone a twit of a girl and her equally immature beau? Thomas Richardson himself looked as if a walk was the last thing he wanted to do, but his fiancee already was holding her arm out for him to take so he rose. All eyes turned expectantly to Mr. Darcy.
"Oh, yes, Thomas, you and Lucy must show Mr. Darcy the maze," Mrs. Richardson called out.
Darcy sighed inwardly but rose and followed the young couple out of the room. Mrs. Gardiner looked with satisfaction at her needlework but her satisfaction turned to dismay five minutes later when she looked up and saw Mrs. van Ruyven was no longer in the room.
Part 7 A
Posted on Friday, 25-Sep-98
Remembering his own courtship of Elizabeth Bennet, Darcy walked several yards behind the affianced couple as they meandered through the maze. Neither Thomas nor Lucy took much notice of him so Darcy amused himself by determining the different species of hedges that made up the labyrinth. He wondered if constructing such a thing at Pemberley would be too pretentious, but the children might enjoy it. He reflected on how long it had been since he had seen their happy round faces and wondered if his pet, little Anne, was missing her papa.
Darcy soon noted that the young lovers were out of sight, though he could hear Lucy's giggles not too far away. He was wondering where he should turn when he heard the sound of something brushing against branches behind him. Turning, he saw Mrs. van Ruyven coming around a yew.
"Oh, Mr. Darcy, I was beginning to become quite frightened. I thought perhaps I was lost in the maze forever!"
Darcy looked curiously at her, wondering what she was doing there in the first place, quite alone. Anya read his mind and held up a scarf.
"Mrs. Richardson asked if I would give this to Miss Gardiner. She was afraid the girl had run outside without regard for the chill in the air." She looked around. "Mr. Darcy, I believe you have lost your charges."
"They are nearby, I believe. I heard them but a moment again. Should I call Miss Gardiner?"
"No, no," Anya smiled and gave a silvery laugh. "It was not so long ago I searched for moments alone with a young lover."
"And where is Mr. Pool?" Darcy asked roguishly.
Anya eyed him shrewdly. "That is not the lover I was referring to. But since you ask, Mr. Pool is in London, I believe. I much prefer to be without such encumbrances here in Surrey."
They walked on in silence for some moments. Every now and then, a voice would carry over from a hedge a few rows behind or in front. As long as Darcy could hear the young couple, he supposed he was performing the duty imposed on him.
"I am very much looking forward to the ball tonight," Anya finally ventured. "And you?"
"I am not fond of a ball, generally. Especially without my wife."
"Yes, I am so sorry not to meet her here." They walked on for a few more moments. Anya began again, "Tell me, is it the custom here for married men to simply observe the ball and not participate? I am hoping, Mr. Darcy, you will ask me for one dance. Only Mr. Bell is single here, and I do not care to dance with him at all."
"There will be other single gentlemen at the ball, I am sure, who would be very happy to dance with you."
"But I do not know them. Mr. Richardson has promised me a dance and that is all." Again, silence. "So you will not dance with me, Mr. Darcy?"
"I do not know if it would be entirely proper."
"Oh, pish posh. Surely under the watchful eye of Mrs. Gardiner, you will be safe with me. I would not dare to compromise you."
Darcy felt somewhat ridiculous at being dismayed by her scorn but still said, "Very well. May I ask for the dance after your dance with Mr. Richardson?"
Anya laid her hand on his arm for a moment and gave him the full benefit of her green eyes. "I would be delighted to dance with you, Mr. Darcy. Thank you."
Suddenly Lucy came shrieking around the corner with Thomas in hot pursuit. They both stopped abruptly when they saw the older couple before them. Anya quickly eased Lucy's embarrassment by placing the scarf around the young girl's neck, then taking her arm.
"Come children. You must show these old people how to get to the end of this maze. We are quite befuddled."
Part 7 B
Posted on Friday, 25-Sep-98
Darcy was downstairs enjoying some champagne when he saw Mrs. van Ruyven walk in. All other eyes turned toward her as well. It was not the eyes or the hair or the long white neck that captured everyone's attention. It was the gown, as revealing as any ever seen in London before and surely never at Mitford Hall. The gown was a pale green, cut very low in the bodice with hand painted flowers starting just under the bosom and cascading down the skirt that wrapped around the lady's limbs as she walked. What was more shocking, however, was the sleeve of the gown, or more accurately, the lack of sleeves. Perhaps two inches of each shoulder was covered with a band of green but the arms were fully exposed except for the long gloves and a green silk shawl which draped across her elbows.
Darcy could not help but smile at the look of indifference on her face as every head turned when she passed. It was easy to admire her independence, but perhaps not that bold look she was giving him as she approached.
She spoke so low that Darcy had to bend his head to hear her. "You have not forgotten our dance, I hope?" she inquired.
Darcy shook his head, still inclined toward her.
"Good," she responded, lightly touching his cheek with her fan. "I plan on having an unforgettable evening."
She walked away after giving him a cheeky smile. Darcy's face burned as visions of Elizabeth's saucy looks invaded his memory. He looked quickly around and saw several people still staring at him. Signaling the footman, he asked for more champagne.
He prowled the edges of the room, feeling slightly jumpy at the thought of his upcoming dance with Anya. Mrs. Gardiner approached him but he barely listened though she was bringing Elizabeth's name up in every other sentence. He watched Anya dancing with Mr. Richardson, knowing that it was his turn next. As the set ended, he bowed to his Aunt and without an explanation sought Mrs. van Ruyven for his dance.
Anya did not turn her eyes away from her partner as they waited for the musicians to begin their set. Darcy actually felt his hands start to perspire as he waited for the moment for their hands to touch. And when they did, he felt....
... nothing. Nothing like he felt when his hand first touched his wife during their first dance. No impulse to hold onto those fingers one second too long, no desire to breathe in the scent of her hair as she passed him, no ache to bend his head down to her and kiss that spirited smile. He smiled slightly as he felt himself relax. Anya eyed him curiously.
"Mr. Darcy, do you never speak when you dance?"
Darcy smiled broadly now. "I am unwilling to speak unless I say something that will amaze the whole room."
Anya looked confused. "I do not understand."
"No, I am afraid there is only one person who does. Forgive me, Mrs. van Ruyven, I am entertaining a private joke in my head and that is most rude of me. So shall we speak of the size of the room or the number of couples?"
"Well, that is not quite what I had in mind but if you wish..."
"Or perhaps we may talk about the merits of private balls over public ones."
"Mr. Darcy, I should much prefer to talk about you."
"I am afraid that would be a very boring subject."
"Mr. Darcy, are you pretending to be ingenuous?"
"Perhaps that would be best. Other than general subjects, there is very little for a married man to say to a woman other than his wife."
"I have found married men to be very talkative when away from their wives."
"I am sure you have, but you will find I have a very unsocial, taciturn disposition." Darcy could not help but smile. "I am afraid I will not be able to please you tonight, Mrs. van Ruyven."
His words had the desired effect. Mrs. van Ruyven did not look very pleased at all.
Posted on Saturday, 26-Sep-98
Darcy flung himself on his bed, still dressed, but ready to fall asleep at any moment. He had spent the better part of the ball in Mr. Richardson's study with several other gentlemen, smoking cigars and drinking brandy. The music and laughter just a floor above made him think too much of Elizabeth and how he missed her. He did not think he hid himself away in the study to avoid Mrs. van Ruyven for the rest of the evening. Now it was 2:30 in the morning and he was a little drunk and too exhausted to even call for his manservant.
He was suddenly jolted awake by a scratching at his door. He listened for a moment, groaned and rolled over, thinking the noise was imagined, but it sounded again. He stumbled to the door and opened it before better sense told him to ignore the summons and go back to sleep. Anya van Ruyven stood before him and in one quick movement, she was in his room.
Leaving the door ajar, he turned to his unwanted guest. She was staring at him, eyes blazing with fury. A quick slap suddenly burned his cheek.
"That is for leaving me alone the entire evening without an explanation," she hissed.
"I beg you pardon?"
"How dare you treat me with such disregard? I thought we were friends."
"Madam, I fulfilled my obligation to you with a dance. I promised nothing more."
"An obligation? You dare to confess to me that my dance was an obligation?" She raised her hand as if to strike him again. This time Darcy caught it before it found its target.
They glared at each other for a few moments. Even in his anger, Darcy could not help but admit that Anya was a very fetching creature indeed. Still, if it had not been for the brandy, Darcy was sure his eyes would not have dropped to the white skin exposed above the bodice of her green gown. When he willed them back up to her eyes again, he saw her expression had changed to that of a very satisfied cat.
Darcy shook his head to clear the exhaustion. "Mrs. van Ruyven, please. We are both tired. If I offended you in some way, I apologize."
'Yes, I was very offended. You will make it up to me in some way. Let me think..." she traced her fingers over the brocade pattern of his waistcoat.
Darcy removed her fingers and held them away from him. "No, madam, I believe the best remedy for an offense is an apology. Again, I offer my sincere apologies. Now, if you will leave my room, we can forget this incident has happened."
Anya's eyes flashed again.
"Please," Darcy continued. "Before you feel you must slap me again, I beg you to return to your chamber. You may regret your actions if you stay."
"No, Mr. Darcy. I have never left a man's bedroom with regret. And I have no regrets, though I shall leave you now. But you will lay awake tonight and you will be thinking of me. Think what I am offering you, Mr. Darcy. Think what you have refused."
With that, she slipped out the door. Darcy not only shut it, but locked it as well. He tried to rub the sleep from his eyes. What had she been babbling about? He undressed quickly, throwing his clothes on the floor and returned to bed, quickly falling into a dreamless sleep.
The next morning, Mrs. van Ruyven came cheerily to the morning room where a breakfast was laid out for the overnight guests. Always a hearty eater, she heaped a plate high with the offerings and sat among the ladies, some of whom eyed her most curiously.
"I see the gentlemen are late risers, this morning, ladies," Anya said, looking for one gentleman in particular. "Or are they already out and about?"
"Most of them have already eaten and are in the fields hoping to find something to shoot," Mrs. Richardson reply. "But one gentleman has left us and returned to London."
Anya raised her eyes at her over her coffee cup. "Oh?"
"Yes, Mrs. van Ruyven," Mrs. Gardiner said. "My nephew, Mr. Darcy, has returned to London early this morning. I expect he is almost to home by now."
Jane Bingley opened a letter from Caroline Benedict. Even after six years of being married to Charles, Jane still felt uneasy whenever she received a missive from his sister. This time, she had reason for her unease.
I hasten to write this letter, for I feel you should know what has been happening in London and Surrey while respectable people have been spending their autumn elsewhere in the country. Please warn Elizabeth Darcy for me that her marriage is in imminent danger!
I speak of Fitzwilliam, who has been carrying on quite indecently with Anya van Ruyven all the time he has been in London and now has had the audacity to be quite open about it at a ball in Surrey, a ball held at the home of your cousin Lucy Gardiner's fiancÚ. The news has traveled quickly. Luckily, I have friends everywhere who are quick to warn me about the indiscretions of Mr. Darcy. I am shocked to think he can act in such a way and I can only assume his home life has not been happy of late.
My dear Jane. Please tell Elizabeth that her husband was seen cavorting with Mrs. van Ruyven in the maze at Mitford Hall, hiding from Lucy and Thomas Richardson who he was supposed to be escorting, and stealing kisses from the lady who I am ashamed to have called a friend. At the ball, he only danced with Anya and was seen smiling shamelessly while with her. We know Mr. Darcy rarely smiles or dances! But oh, Jane, I tremble as I write the next line. After the ball, Mrs. van Ruyven was seen coming out of Mr. Darcy's bedroom at three o'clock in the morning!
The lady of course is an audacious minx. Poor Mr. Darcy, his heart must be broken by his wife for him to act in such an uncharacteristic way. I am sure all London is talking of this sordid affair. I hope Elizabeth will be able to hold her head up in public. What are we to do?
Your loving sister,
Jane turned pale with shock as she read this letter. Eyes brimming with tears, she ran to find her husband.
Posted on Sunday, 27-Sep-98
Five days later, the Bingleys arrived en famille to Pemberley. They were visiting on the pretense of bringing the young cousins together for play and would stay the night. Jane, however, had another letter from her Aunt Gardiner which she had to bring to her sister's attention.
Jane made sure the children were happily playing in the nursery with only a tear or two spilt when young Charles would not return young Fitzwilliam's cup and ball. Settling that, she needed to exercise little persuasion for Elizabeth to join her in a walk in the smoky November air.
She waited until they were clear of the house before handing her Caroline's letter.
"My dear, Charles says I should not show you this letter, but I can not keep anything from you. Before you read it, know that it is not the truth. Aunt Gardiner has provided me with the truth and I will show you her account of what has been happening with Fitzwilliam. But you must know what people are saying."
Elizabeth wordlessly took Caroline's letter and began to read. Barely begun, she looked up, searching for something to sit on and found an obliging fence. She cradled her head in one hand as she continued. Jane wordlessly sat next to her and put an arm around her sister.
As Elizabeth finished, she looked tearfully at her sister.
"Lizzy, Lizzy, I am sorry to bring you such distress. People can be vicious, Charles says, though it pains me to think of it. But you must know of this." She produced Aunt Gardiner's letter. "Here, this should put your mind at ease."
My dear Jane,
I was horrified to read of Mrs. Benedict's account of our stay in Surrey. Foremost, let me assure you that I believe nothing improper happened. I was not a witness to all the events mentioned, but I have been a witness to Mr. Darcy's character many times and will tell everyone I know who questions it how honorable a man he truly is.
Secondly, Caroline Benedict was not even there. This proves how rapidly gossip flies and with each mile, seems to grow more contemptible.
Thirdly, please make Lizzy see how nothing will put an end to these tales until she and Fitzwilliam are reunited. Unhappily, there are some malicious forces who delight in seeing the misery of others. The Darcys must put an end to this delight.
Let me tell you the truth of what happened.
It appeared to me almost immediately that Mrs. van Ruyven was in Surrey merely to see Fitzwilliam. Uncle Gardiner was able to keep Fitzwilliam very busy through our first day there, but whenever the gentlemen joined the ladies, there would be this woman sitting by Lizzy's husband. He was always a gentleman. I never saw anything forward in his manner to her. Still she managed to join him in a walk in this infamous maze. They were not alone, however. Young Richardson and Lucy were with them and Lucy assures me nothing but proper decorum was shown and she was in Mr. Darcy's sight at all times.
As for the ball, yes Fitzwilliam danced with Mrs. van Ruyven but it was for only one set. Mr. Darcy disappeared soon after and danced no more with any woman. I was surprised that he danced with this woman at all but not surprised that he disappeared. We know Mr. Darcy is not fond of balls and I am sure it was only her appeal to his good manners that forced him into dancing with her. Smiles? Yes, there were smiles, but let me repeat, Fitzwilliam is a gentleman. I watched very closely and saw nothing improper in his actions.
Of course I was not roaming the halls at three o'clock in the morning to make sure everyone was safely in their rooms. But the actions I have described above do not equal to Fitzwilliam concluding his evening in such a way. I can only surmise she may have been seen in the halls at this time but anyone who knows Fitzwilliam can be assured he would not entertain a lady in his quarters at any time of day or night.
Still, this idle talk will continue now that the seeds are sown. There are people quick to believe the worst of everyone. You must convince Lizzy to send for Fitzwilliam. He has been too long away.
All my love,
Elizabeth stood up and wordlessly began walking again. Jane, just as silently, walked by her side. She soon saw they were approaching the plot of consecrated ground where eight generations of Darcys were buried, and now nine with Lizzy's own small son, James.
"It has been four months and two weeks now since he died. I come here everyday, Jane, because it comforts me. I feel sad here but also fiercely proud. Look at all these Darcys. I have read all of their stones. There, Peter Darcy, a 'stawnche defyndyre of the Stuarts'. What must he think of us now. Look, Fitzwilliam's great-great-great grandmother was named Elizabeth. She bore ten children, eight of them died before age ten. How did she bear it, but she did. She lived to age eighty-seven. Remarkable. I am so proud my children are of this blood."
Jane watched her sister walk among the gravestones. "Lizzy, I know I am sometimes naive, but why is Fitzwilliam not here with you?"
Elizabeth looked up, tears fresh in her eyes. "Because I sent him away."
"Then is it not time to bring him back?"
Part 10 A
Posted on Monday, 28-Sep-98
Enough was enough. Darcy was preparing to return to Pemberley. The indifferent letters he was receiving from his wife gave him no faith that she would ask for his return. He would return without entreaties. He would return to his home.
Servants were bustling to and fro, preparing for the house to be vacant again. Darcy took refuge in his library which insulated him from the scurrying going on outside his door. He was in the process of selecting some books to take on his journey when a rap on the door notified him he had a visitor.
A footman entered, bowed and announced that Mrs. van Ruyven was waiting to see him. Darcy was silent for some moments, wondering if he could make an escape. He would soon be gone, he need never see her again. He exhaled loudly and told the footman he would join Mrs. van Ruyven in the drawing room. One more attempt would he make to compel the woman to see he could not forsake his marriage.
When he entered the drawing room, he saw Anya standing at the window, looking out into the quiet square outside. She turned when she heard him and stood silently before him. No one spoke for several moments.
Finally, Anya broke the silence. "It appears, Mr. Darcy, that you are leaving London. Pray, tell me, are you returning to Pemberley?"
"I am. I expect to leave tomorrow."
"Your wife must be very glad."
Darcy again was mute.
Anya approached him slowly, green eyes shining. "You must think me a fool, but you must forgive me. I have never know rejection. Even as a little girl I received whatever I asked for. I had hoped that we could be.... friends. You made it clear to me more than once that this could not be. Yet here I am again. Am I making a fool of myself?"
Darcy looked away feeling very uncomfortable. Yes he did think she was a fool but his breeding prevented him from telling her so.
"Being with me would not have been so very bad," Anya continued. "I can be very discreet. I believe people are talking more about us now than if we had become lovers."
"People are talking about us?"
Anya gave a small laugh. "Of course they are. What greater pleasure do our neighbors have but to find fault with others and think the very worst. No, never mind, Mr. Darcy," she continued when she saw his chagrin. "It will die down soon enough. It always does."
She picked up some small items on his desk and fingered them, turning over some others as she looked coyly at him. "It seems a shame to be talked of for doing nothing, does it not? You were not even tempted once?"
"You are a beautiful woman, Mrs. van Ruyven. Any man would say so."
"It would be dishonest to my wife and to myself. It would be dishonest even to you. I could never show you the passion that I feel for my wife. I could never come close."
Anya blinked her eyes. "And you do not wish to even try? Even one night? I would change your mind, you know."
"No, Anya, you wouldn't."
She walked directly up to him. Darcy wondered for a fleeting moment whether he was to be slapped again. Instead, Anya smiled ruefully. "You have reduced me to pursuing you. Like a fool. I am getting too old for this, I think."
She walked to the door and turned. "I admire you, Fitzwilliam. And I envy your Elizabeth." She paused for a moment. "Mr. Bell is in town. Perhaps I shall invite him to my box at the opera. What do you think?"
Darcy smiled. "I believe Mr. Bell has a great passion. For opera."
They exchanged smiles one last time and Darcy watched as a footman escorted Mrs. van Ruyven downstairs to the door. He let out a big sigh as he heard the door close and then returned to his books.
The bustle continued beyond the doors of his library. Darcy looked perturbed by the thoughtless racket his servants were making. They seemed not to notice that the master was at home. Ready to reprimand his housekeeper, Darcy strode purposefully through the door where his ears picked up childish voices and the low soothing tones of a woman. He picked up speed as he neared the stairs. Looking down, he saw it was indeed his family standing in the lower hallway amid trunks, boxes, ladies maids and nursemaids. He stood unnoticed for a few moments, not quite believing what he saw. Lizzy was instructing he housekeeper. The London house was not to be shut down. The family would be staying there at least through Christmas.
"Mrs. Darcy," Fitzwilliam called.
Elizabeth raised her head slowly and looked unsmilingly up at him. "Mr. Darcy."
As dignified as he could, Darcy descended the stairs to greet his little ones, Anne, Fitzwilliam and Robert. Young Will hung back shyly, not sure if this big man was indeed his father. But Anne, always in love with her papa, threw herself in his arms as he kneeled down. Needing no further encouragement, Will squirmed under Darcy's arms to join in the embrace. With his face buried in their sweet-smelling hair, Darcy could not see his wife's loving expression which quickly changed to impassivity as he looked up at her. Little Robert was dead to the world, arms and legs hanging over the arms of his nurse. Standing up, Darcy paused to look at his sleeping child and turned to Elizabeth.
"You are well, I hope?" Darcy asked.
"Yes, very well. I thank you. And you?"
He nodded and moved toward her for a kiss. At the last moment, she moved her head slightly so his lips brushed her cheek instead of her mouth.
Elizabeth, long used to being the mistress of her houses, started giving instructions again to the maids and housekeeper. Footmen started picking up the cases brought from Pemberley and children were taken up the stairs toward the nursery for nourishment and rest. Anne and Will waved good-bye to their papa as he promised them he would come up to see them after their naps.
"Shall we talk?" Darcy asked as Elizabeth finally removed her coat and bonnet.
"Yes, we have much to talk of. Mrs. Harris is telling me you were shutting the house down to return to Pemberley."
He nodded. "I was planning on leaving tomorrow. I thank God I did not leave today or I would have missed this welcome surprise. You did not write to say you were coming."
"Neither did you."
She proceeded to ascend the stairway and turn to the drawing room. As Darcy followed her, he wondered if Mrs. van Ruyven's perfume was still in the air. She had left but fifteen minutes ago. He also wondered at his wife's demeanor. Something had changed. She looked strong and purposeful, no longer sulky and fragile. Was she better now or had she come to a decision that she was about to bring to his attention.
Part 10 B
Posted on Monday, 28-Sep-98
Darcy sniffed the air as they entered the drawing room. He did not detect anything unusual but to be safe, opened a window just a bit. Elizabeth eyed him curiously but said nothing. She sat down and indicated he should sit across from her.
"I have left you alone in London too long, I have heard," Elizabeth began.
"It is difficult for a married man to be seen in society without a wife and not have people speculating on his affairs," she continued cryptically.
"Pemberley is not so far away that I have not heard how my husband was spending his leisure hours."
"What could you possibly have heard?"
"Why don't you tell me?"
Darcy was getting angry. He did not like games and was annoyed at his wife's attitude when all he wanted was to sweep her up in his arms and kiss her until her lips were bruised.
"I have no idea what you have heard. You will tell me," he said coldly.
Elizabeth thought it best to concede this point. She pulled out the two letters filled with gossip and proceeded to read them aloud. Darcy's face remained stony but outrage filled him inside, not that people had been talking about him but that his wife had had to hear their slander.
"Why did you not write me and ask me for an explanation?" he asked.
"I never believed it was true."
"Then why are you sitting here like this, so cold that you can not even kiss me. Why did you even come to London?"
"Because I did you a great wrong sending you away alone to London. Because I miss you. Because our children miss you," Elizabeth gave a small laugh. "Because I want to save you from this woman."
"Then you believe some of it is true."
Elizabeth got up and walked around the room. "No, I do not believe the material points. I am sure she was not in your bedroom at three o'clock in the morning. I am sure you did not kiss her." Here, Elizabeth looked curiously at him, waiting for him to say something.
"Of course not," he managed. He decided he should acknowledge one point though. "I did dance with her."
"Did you enjoy it?"
"No, I thought only of you. Oh, and I was in her box at the opera."
"No. Well, for a few moments we were alone. That was wrong of me. I should have known it would be thought of as improper."
"You enjoyed talking with her?"
"At first. She is a bright and charming woman."
Elizabeth's eyes flashed. "You are not supposed to say that. Please don't tell me she was very beautiful. I have heard that already."
Darcy couldn't help but smile. "Of course. Forgive me."
Elizabeth returned his smile. "And do you forgive me?"
"Fitzwilliam, I sent you away. It was so perverse of me when I needed you so much. And I could not see that you needed me too. Do you forgive me?"
How simple it was to take his wife in his arms when she was begging for his forgiveness. He gave it to her with a kiss, though he felt just a bit guilty. It was time for one more sin to be forgiven.
He nuzzled her neck as he spoke, "Lizzy, you will forgive my indiscretion for letting her in my chamber at three o'clock in the morning?"
Elizabeth pulled back violently. "What? That was true?"
He spoke quickly. "I didn't even know it was her. I was tired, I had too much drink."
"What happened?" Elizabeth asked frostily.
"Nothing, of course. Well, she slapped me."
"What did you do to her to cause her to slap you?"
"I don't even remember. I refused her, I suppose."
"I did refuse her. And I sent her on her way."
"You refused to be her lover?"
Darcy nodded, somewhat embarrassed.
Elizabeth smiled again. "I see it is not safe at all to leave you alone. Are there any other women in London who want you for their lover?"
"I hope just one."
"Well.... eventually. I feel I need to punish you just a bit."
Elizabeth moved toward the door. She turned back to her husband standing forlornly at the window. Feeling both love and pity for him, she held out her hand for his. As he took it, she reached up to whisper in his ear.
"I am returned to you. I am your wife again. And all the town will know it." She pulled back, kissed him quickly on the mouth and drew him along behind her. "Come, let's look at the children. They are almost as glad to have their papa with them again as their mama is."