Darcy’s hopes for productive engagement period collapsed once he reached Longbourn. Mrs. Bennet behaved as he had guessed she would. First, she could not contain her confusion at their arrival and questioned the absence of Bingley. Darcy sought an audience with Mr. Bennet, who refused to believe anything of the scenario Darcy laid out without consulting Elizabeth. Darcy did not know what father and daughter discussed for above half an hour, but both clearly saw the marriage as a last resort.
Despite Mrs. Bennet’s shrieking effusions and the rude comments from the younger daughters upon the announcement, Darcy sighed in relief. Could the ends justify the means? He and Elizabeth would wed. They would share a lifetime to come closer.
Mrs. Bennet demanded a special license and began squiring Elizabeth around the area, not caring a whit for any of the gossip which followed. Thankfully, Mr. Collins soon returned to his parish when Lady Catherine discovered the source of the rumours in Hunsford to be none other than Lady Montague-Churchill. Lady Catherine arranged for Collins to be present at her friend’s next visit and for the topic to be hellfire and brimstone for gossipmongers. Still, the damage was done. Perhaps it might have been concealed if Darcy had not acted so promptly and arrived at Longbourn. Once again, his attempts at managing Society and acting honourably ruined things.
Mr. Bennet refused to even speak to Darcy. Distinctly unwelcome at Longbourn, he spent most of the engagement in London arranging Elizabeth’s settlement. Regardless of the source of their union, he would begrudge her nothing. Mrs. Darcy deserved the very best.
On one of his brief visits to the area, Elizabeth broached a topic he had not expected from her.
“Several officers dined here last night,” Elizabeth began. “The Militia leaves today, and it was the final opportunity to speak with our friends.”
Darcy tensed as they walked in Longbourn’s garden, fearing a particular name would be mentioned. He did not know if she ever read his letter.
“Mr. Wickham approached me, and we had a strange conversation.”
Darcy said nothing.
“He confessed he was shocked to hear of our engagement. He had believed you would wed your cousin.”
“I was never engaged to Anne,” Darcy rushed to say.
Elizabeth nodded. “I had wondered but guessed if you were then you would not have proposed to me.”
The fact that she allowed a possibility of it being the opposite spoke volumes as to her estimation of his honour.
“He was surprised to hear that I had often been in your company and asked if you had come alone.”
Wickham must have been fishing for information regarding Georgiana. Darcy remained silent.
“When I mentioned the Colonel, Wickham observed the differences in your manners and disposition. He…he hinted at there being some reason for that. I do not know why he found it so fascinating,” Elizabeth said while glancing at Darcy. “The son of an earl and an officer in the army would surely have different education and experiences than a gentleman’s son.”
A gentleman’s son, Darcy thought. Except he was not. Additionally, he noted she did not call him a gentleman. Belatedly, he realized Elizabeth stared at him expectantly. “What do you wish to say?”
“Will you do nothing for him?” She asked and walked ahead to put distance between them. “You once used to be close friends.”
“Elizabeth,” Darcy commanded, and she turned to face him. “You will never ask about this again. You will never speak his name again.”
She ceased speaking and fear flooded her eyes as he stepped forward and met her in two long strides. His heart pounded, and he could feel the heat on his face. His voice sounded rough and savage. “I mean it. I will not tolerate discussion in this quarter. He leaves today, and I pray we will never hear of him again. He is no friend to you.”
Elizabeth said nothing and tears gathered in her eyes.
“Do you understand?” he asked. He did not yell but recognised his tone as one spoken by a displeased George Darcy. The tone that always struck terror in his heart. He cared not. The matter was too important. If she had not read his letter, she never would. He was too angry to explain it all to her, all he wanted was her promise. “Do I have your agreement?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
Darcy nodded and stormed off, not trusting himself to say or do anything else. He longed to take Elizabeth in his arms and erase the stricken look on her face. Words failed him. She had not read his letter and deserved to know, but he could not speak more. An embrace or tenderness from him would be the last thing she desired.
He left that afternoon for London and did not return until the day of the wedding. Bingley arrived with him and offered use of Netherfield. Darcy knew Elizabeth had wondered if he would confess all to his friend. He had put it off, expecting Bingley’s anger. Instead, the man could not believe his good fortune.
“Miss Bennet may not still care for you,” Darcy cautioned.
“If she loved me once, I can earn it back,” Bingley said with a grin.
Despite Darcy’s tale, his friend seemed euphoric.
“I can never repay you for your loyalty and kindness,” Bingley had said.
Darcy shook his head. He could not say if Jane still loved Bingley, but he saw the signs of heartbreak. At times, the distant look in her eyes was reminiscent of his own. He had been far too officious in imagining he saved Bingley from anything. He would have done much better by paying closer attention to Elizabeth’s reaction around him rather than assuming she felt as he did. What a tangled mess of it he made.
Still, when Elizabeth approached him at the altar in Longbourn’s church on May Day, Darcy could not prevent the feeling of utter rightness settling into his heart. She vowed to love him, and whether or not she meant it at the time, he promised himself to never give up and to cherish her always.
As the carriage rolled away, Darcy caught the worried looks from Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth’s London relatives—a couple Darcy had enjoyed meeting and believed an acquaintance he would keep—and the tears trickling down Elizabeth’s face. This would be an uphill battle but a lifetime would be enough. No one would ever love another the way he loved Elizabeth and when he had, at last, earned the position he coveted in her heart, he would speak it all. Until then, he would wait and watch and love her without words every day.
Towards the end of July, Elizabeth readied Pemberley for Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner to visit. The newlyweds had spent several weeks in London after the wedding and remained until the end of June when Bingley and Jane married. Elizabeth spent most mornings with her aunt, while Darcy spent time at his club. They joined in the afternoon for dinner, sometimes with his small circle of friends and avoided the general circuit of London as the Season waned. Additionally, Darcy had sensed Elizabeth unready to travel all the way to Derbyshire, and he invited her aunt and uncle to dine with them as often as possible to make her feel at ease. He genuinely liked them and asked them to visit over the summer.
Arriving at Pemberley during the height of summer, Elizabeth immediately loved the grounds. She spent as much time as she could out of doors, walking and examining the gardens. It had seemed a lifetime ago that they discussed the manicured gardens of Rosings, but Elizabeth praised him for leaving Pemberley in its more natural state.
While their first few months of marriage had remained strained, with most of their time spent apart, Pemberley breathed fresh air into them. They fell into a routine of separate mornings, then an afternoon walk and tea together before dinner when Georgiana would join them for the evening.
Slowly but surely, Elizabeth’s anger had faded. She talked with Darcy more and asked to sit with him in the library sometimes. Darcy dare not ask her about the change in her feelings lest he scare them away.
The night before Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner’s arrival, Darcy thought they turned a corner. Perhaps it was the extra glass of wine he drank at dinner, but he believed he saw Elizabeth look at him fondly during the meal. When Georgiana declared herself tired and asked for a supper tray to be sent to her room, instead of doting on the girl she had taken underwing as a sister, Elizabeth requested Darcy to sit and turn pages for her.
Her sweet voice always pulled on his heart and more than once their hands grazed when he reached to turn a page for her. They had other times of this gradual touching, but he had always erred on the side of caution since his compromising kiss. This night, however, he felt intoxicated by the feeling of her at his side, in their home, and desiring his company. At the end of the song, Darcy raised her hand to his lips.
“Pemberley has never looked more beautiful, my darling,” he said as she blushed. “Do you enjoy your refreshed rooms?”
“Yes, very much,” she murmured as she stared at her hand still in his.
That she did not seek to remove it made Darcy want to shout in victory. “Then I am pleased. Your happiness is paramount to me.” He rubbed his thumb over her soft skin and heard a soft gasp.
“You are so good to me,” Elizabeth said and ducked her head away.
Darcy could see her cheeks burning crimson and the vice grip he had felt around his heart for months eased. She saw something good in him. The clock chimed the time, and Darcy did not want to relinquish the closeness they had found this night.
“Would you care for a short stroll in the garden? I do not think you have seen it at night time.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Elizabeth said in a breathy tone.
Darcy escorted her through the garden as she leaned on his arm. He covered her hand with his free one, stroking the smooth skin and feeling shivers run through Elizabeth’s frame from time to time. Coming under an arbour with roses climbing over it, their heavy fragrance filling the air, he pulled her to his chest, and she lowered her head against his heart. His arms tightened around her, and they sighed at the same time, drawing a slow smile from his lips.
“I think of you out here often, Lizzy,” he whispered into her hair. “More beautiful than the stars, with your eyes shining like diamonds. You are as fresh and unspoilt as these roses.” He nuzzled against the softness atop her head. “I do not deserve you.”
Darcy waited for Elizabeth to tense or push him away. He waited for her to remind him of his sins and what brought them together was not mutual love but his penchant for destruction. Instead, she tilted her head up and smiled at him as she caressed his face with a hand. He leaned into it and shut his eyes. The gentle touch did more to heal the wounds of his heart than any words ever could. Hearing a rustle of fabric, he opened his eyes just as Elizabeth brushed her lips against his.
He staggered back as every part of him felt aflame.
“Did…did I do something wrong?” Elizabeth asked and chewed her bottom lip. “Did you not like it?” She turned her face from him.
In one long step, Darcy was in front of her, so close their chests touched giving him the most exquisite torture. “I have wanted your kiss from almost the first moment I met you. Nothing could feel better—”
His words were extinguished when Elizabeth placed both hands on his face and pulled his mouth to hers. Asking no more questions, Darcy wrapped his arms around her waist and worshipped his goddess with unwavering devotion.
The next morning, as he opened his eyes fearing it had all been a dream, he was greeted by the sight of Elizabeth’s head resting on his heart and her arm draped across his chest.
Darcy knew he should have asked after Elizabeth’s change of heart, but first, he was too afraid and then he had no time. Disaster struck, and it threatened to undo everything he had worked for. Once during their engagement, Elizabeth asked after his relationship with Wickham, and he had pushed her feelings aside. When her sister Lydia went to Brighton with the Regiment, no one thought to ask him or mention it to him. Indeed, while he had thought it unwise, he would not have considered her a target for Wickham.
A few days after Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner arrived at Pemberley, Elizabeth received two letters from Jane. Lydia had eloped with Wickham, but it was not believed they had continued to Scotland. They hid somewhere in London. The Gardiners immediately left to help. Elizabeth withdrew to her chamber. He whispered words of comfort to her, but she refused to speak. Determined to see her smile again, Darcy decided to leave for Town two days later. Georgiana would watch over Elizabeth.
Once in London, Darcy left no stone unturned until he located Georgiana’s former governess who had schemed with Wickham to cash in her dowry. For a few guineas, the woman ratted out her one-time lover and directed Darcy to his location. After finding the couple and unable to convince Lydia to leave the man, he persuaded her to return to Gracechurch street until the wedding. The following day, Darcy arrived at Wickham’s rooms with a magistrate and a stack of Wickham’s debts he now owned.
“What is this?” Wickham scowled. “You would not send me to debtor’s prison! What would your father say?”
Darcy said nothing and let Wickham continue with his usual line of defense.
“You have not forgotten, have you, how he favoured me?”
“I have not,” Darcy said through grit teeth. “You will sign these papers,” Darcy put down a second stack, “which commit you to marrying Miss Lydia and purchasing an ensigncy in the Regulars or you will pay the consequences of your misdeeds.”
After staring at Wickham without flinching for several long seconds, the other man picked up the pen and signed the papers. He paused at the last one. “What is this?”
“Read it for yourself,” Darcy said.
Wickham looked at the magistrate. “Is this legal? If I speak the truth—the truth mind you, not a lie—of Darcy or Miss Darcy’s birth, I will be deported to Australia without trial?”
The man shrugged. “A private agreement between two people can contain any number of things. You give up the right to speak openly by not going to Newgate now. At any rate, such talk would lean toward blackmail, and you certainly are not asking me if you should retain such a right. My, that could be construed as an admission of guilt or an intention of crime.”
Wickham held up his hand. “Very well.” He angrily signed the final missive.
Darcy remained in London until Wickham and Lydia married. They then visited at Longbourn. Darcy sent for Elizabeth so she could visit her family. He stayed in town, unable to be in company with Wickham.
After the unfortunate couple left, Darcy took up residence at Netherfield and Elizabeth joined him. Words could not describe the stirring in his heart as he had his wife to hold again. After their sweet reunion as she laid her head against his chest and drifted to sleep, he thought she whispered the three words he had waited his whole life to hear. The next day, however, she acted no different than before. Darcy observed her over the next few days and concluded she merely missed sharing her bed with him given how often she invited—even begged—for him to join her there.
They returned to Pemberley for Michaelmas, and as a year had lapsed since they first met, Darcy could hardly believe how much had happened in that time. He had once said she could not tempt him to dance. He had once claimed she had no beauty. Now, she could drive him mad with a glance. Now, she was the most beautiful woman in the world to him. Still, he increasingly wondered if he would ever gain her love.
As their first Christmas together approached, Darcy wondered what to give Elizabeth. She had something up he sleeve if her blushing every time she looked at him was any indication. When he presented her with a new writing set, she beamed at him.
“I regret that we cannot see your family more,” he said.
“Yes, they are much further than fifty miles away,” she said saucily and winked.
Darcy grinned to see her tease him over a remark from months ago; before they had married and felt the peace they now did. Her eyes soon took on an affectionate quality, and he thought he might drown in them. Elizabeth blushed and reached for a package to her side then extended her arm to him.
Darcy reverently touched the paper. He had received so few gifts in his life. “Thank you, Elizabeth. Thank you for thinking of me.”
“Of course, I think of you! Open it, silly,” she laughed, and Georgiana joined in.
Flushing at his awkwardness, Darcy opened the paper and found a collection of handkerchiefs with roses and stars embroidered.
“My first efforts were not very proficient,” Elizabeth murmured shyly. “I am happy to say that I improved with practice.”
“I love them,” Darcy said and kissed her cheek, causing her and Georgiana to blush.
How many hours had she spent on these? And she thought of him the whole time. He feared his heart my burst from the joy of it all. That night, in her chambers, something even more significant occurred.
“I love you,” Elizabeth said as she cuddled to him before falling asleep.
Wrapping his arms around her, Darcy smiled so widely he felt facial muscles stretching he had never used before. He held Elizabeth tightly to his chest the rest of the night.
In the morning, she found him in his study. They were to hand out the Boxing Day gifts to the tenants, and the butler had just departed from collecting the bonuses for the household staff. Darcy welcomed her in, and she settled on his lap, placing her arms around his neck.
“Darling,” she said as he rested his head on hers. “I wanted to tell you now so you might decide when we should inform the rest of the estate.”
Darcy lifted his head as a feeling of anticipation filled him. “Yes?”
“There will be a Darcy heir in the Spring.” She grinned and kissed him.
“You are certain?”
Elizabeth nodded. “I have had suspicions for months and began feeling it move last week.”
“When will she come?” Darcy grinned thinking of a bright-eyed girl just like Elizabeth.
“It may be a he,” Elizabeth laughed. “Around our wedding anniversary.”
Unable to contain his joy he shot out of his chair and twirled his wife in his arms while laughing. When Darcy set her down, he kissed her deeply while feeling the clouds of his past disappear. They had love. They had happiness.
He had never before enjoyed visiting the tenants so much. Seeing their happy families only reminded him of his broken one, but today, he felt whole. At the last house, however, Elizabeth’s cheerfulness visibly dimmed. Although she insisted she only felt tired and needed a nap, Darcy could not resist worrying about her. His mother had never been well during her confinements. Thoughts of his mother only reminded him of the secrets he still kept from Elizabeth. He shoved the guilt aside. The information was of such little consequence, he would tell her at the right time. Why ruin their happiness?
As the weeks wore on, Darcy’s fears proved correct. Elizabeth suffered from bouts of insomnia and minor illnesses. Her typical energy disappeared. He also thought better of the timing of her declaration of love. She did not love him. She liked that he had given her a baby. Elizabeth never held back her feelings or words for anything else. If she truly loved him, she would say it often. Instead, she never uttered it again.
When her time for confinement came, Darcy paced about a downstairs room in dread of losing her forever. Mrs. Bennet arrived to assist with the birth, and Darcy found he, at last, had a use for the woman. She crowed in happiness at Elizabeth bearing a son. That night, as Darcy held the woman and son he loved beyond all reason, he vowed to himself he would say nothing to mar their paradise. He had no reason to open the wounds of his past.
More than twenty years later, he learned to repent that vow and all the things he left unsaid.