I’ve gotten behind on this story. I’m sorry! I’ve been sick a few weeks. Additionally, I am trying to finished Treasured. I should have Chapter Four ready next week, though.
A day or two after they arrived in London, Darcy entered his club. He hadn’t been in there since he met with Bingley and before he left for Easter in Kent. He was hailed by a few acquaintances and greeted them civilly, noting he attracted more onlookers than ever before. Settling into his usual seat, he overheard a nearby discussion.
“I am surprised to see Darcy,” said one man. “I heard he was in Hertfordshire for a sister-in-law’s wedding.”
“One of many,” another said.
“Indeed,” the first man said. “It is good his wife comes from such a good breeder.”
Darcy tensed at the vulgar term but remained silent.
“Ah, but no sons,” said the first.
“Pemberley has no need of a male heir, and if they never are blessed with children, Miss Darcy will tend to the Darcy legacy. The estate—and the title.”
“How old is Miss Darcy? She should be making her come out soon.” A young man with eager eyes spoke up.
Darcy could not remember who he was. Undoubtedly, he would like a connection to a barony and a hefty dowry.
“I would rather hear about those sisters-in-law,” the first said. “I have heard they are all out and nearly all as beautiful as Lady Darcy.”
“Have you seen her? Darcy keeps her locked up!”
“Interesting that—he must be ashamed to have been taken in by a fortune hunter. Can she be so beautiful if he will not squire her about?”
“One just married a duke. You cannot claim the family is too low now.”
Darcy had heard enough. Standing, he glared at the group of men before stalking out. Had he never fully registered before how men talked about women? As though they were worth nothing more than for their pleasure, to make heirs, or to enhance their accounts? He turned to leave and did not know if he would ever return. His poor wife. He could only hope she had a better experience with the ladies who had called on her.
Enroute to his home, Darcy considered what he had heard. He had been disgusted at the time, but now he also felt pity. The men were ignorant and would never know the joys of being loved and respected by a strong woman. Perhaps it was not entirely their fault. The usual gentleman’s education did not include much in the way of thinking of women as equals. However, they had ample opportunity and means to rectify their lack of intelligence.
He had not thought as seriously about the matter of opening a school for ladies as anything more than a promise to his aunt. He had seen the worth in educating women, of course. However, he had never considered it as imperative for the entire human race. The only way to end ignorant talk like he had just heard was by showing the world what educated women could do and by proving some men were unafraid of them.
Arriving at Darcy House, he waved his butler off with news of letters in the study and cards from callers and climbed the stairs to the drawing room where he expected to find his wife. He found Georgiana and Mary seated at the pianoforte working on a duet.
“Where is Elizabeth?”
Mary and Georgiana exchanged a glance.
“Where is she?” Darcy demanded. “Is she unwell? Was someone unkind to her?”
Why had he left her alone for calls this morning? She had insisted she was ready to face the ton, but he had wanted to be at her side. He was racing through the hallway to her chamber when he heard her voice call out to him from the other end of the hall. Turning around, he saw her give him a curious look and approached.
“Were you looking for me?” she said sweetly and seemed unaffected by anything.
“Indeed. When you were not in the drawing room, I assumed something awful happened.”
Elizabeth raised her brow and tapped her foot but said nothing.
Darcy hung his head. “And I ought to know by now not to make assumptions. Forgive me, love.”
“You did not think that I could tolerate a morning of calls from the ton’s finest?”
He approached and kissed her forehead. “Can you blame me for being over-protective?”
“Do other husbands think their wives are made of glass? What do men at your club say?”
Darcy did not want to think about that just now. “I do not think you are made of glass. I simply regret the convention that says I must spend so much time away from my new bride. I also know there are many vicious and petty ladies in the world.”
“This would not be my first time meeting vicious or petty ladies. I am not Fanny Bennet’s daughter for nothing and let us not forget I have known Caroline Bingley.”
“You are quite correct. So, nothing of note happened today?” He knew Elizabeth was strong, but he also knew how much it hurt her when she learned of Mrs. Collins’ low opinion of her.
“No, it all went as I expected. How was your day?”
Darcy frowned. It going as she expected was not the same as saying it went well or she thought some of the ladies were friendly. Why had he not asked Dorset’s mother to sit with her? Or Lady Catherine could have come from Rosings. Few would dare to say anything against her.
“Shall we not join our sisters? I can ring for tea,” Elizabeth said.
“They are employed in their own pursuits,” he said with a slow-growing smile. “And I was in pursuit of you.” He captured her hand and began leading her down the hall.
“William, we cannot.” Elizabeth looked around nervously. “It is the middle of the day! Our sisters must have heard us conversing. What will they think when we do not return to them?”
“That it is far better we are affectionate with each other in private than in public and everything else they will understand when they are married.”
“Affectionate in public—”
Darcy interrupted whatever else Elizabeth intended to say with a kiss. One hand nestled at her waist, the other stroked up and down her back. After a few moments, he pulled back. “Please, Lizzy.”
“Ben,” Elizabeth whispered but nodded.
Sometime later, as they relaxed in Elizabeth’s chamber, Darcy told her about the visit to his club. “I do not know that I will go back.”
“Are all the gentlemen that way?”
“No. Of course not,” Darcy shook his head. “In truth, I have barely said more than a word or two to any of those men.”
“And you have enjoyed the place in the past?”
Darcy thought for a moment. It had meant little to him that he had not been there in weeks. However, there were times when he desired male company. At the moment, his friendship with Bingley was severed. Nor had he and Richard made amends. The only other man he had been around in weeks was the Duke—currently honeymooning—and Elizabeth’s father. In the past, the club had offered a possibility of socialization without the dreaded experience of a lady seeking a husband. True, there were always fathers and brothers looking for a wealthy match for the women in their lives. However, he was never forced into dancing with anyone there. Additionally, it was easier to leave if anyone annoyed. At a ball or soiree, there would always be the possibility of giving offense and wounding a lady’s sensibilities if he seemed bored by her prattle.
“It has had its merits,” Darcy said.
“You cannot sit at the house with me all day,” Elizabeth said gently and rubbed his back. “Not that I enjoy the confinement that much.”
Darcy winced. “I ought to have considered that you were used to company more. I know your mother entertained often.” He sighed. “Would you like to host a dinner party?”
Elizabeth chuckled. “You will not put me off this topic. However, since you have asked, I do not wish to host one yet. However, soon we must. It is what is expected of us, and if I am ever to make real friends in this Society, then I will have to play hostess. I never really enjoyed my mother’s parties. It is not as though the guests were usually fascinating people with interesting conversation. I suppose I miss my routine. My sisters and I would walk to Meryton almost every day. We would look at the shops and meet with acquaintances. Occasionally, we would make new friends. My world here seems very small by comparison.”
Elizabeth paused and gave her husband a stern look. “We were talking about you. Is avoiding the club why you wished to stay home today?”
“I did not have any expectation that I would hear such vulgar, insensitive words. I did, however, have an inkling that it would be more unpleasant than usual. The last time I was there was with Bingley. Looking back, he was fishing for information about the barony and ran home to tell his sister I was searching for a Bluestocking. I do not know if I wished to avoid the memory or just was not desirous of company. As it happens, I have no close male friends left.”
“Well,” Elizabeth said with a small smile, “it is not unusual for men to give up some acquaintances upon marriage. There will be nothing unusual about that or inviting critique. Surely you have some men that you do not know as well as others that might be worthy of elevation. Or you may meet new friends. You can be a charming conversationalist when you try. If you no longer prefer the club, what about another pursuit? As for the rest, I have been told a charming wife may be of use.” Elizabeth batted her lashes before laughing at her antics.
“Lucky that I have a very charming wife.” He leaned in for a kiss.
Elizabeth melted against him for a minute before pulling back and placing a hand on his chest. “We really should join our sisters now. We will scandalize them!”
She began to move away from the bed, but Darcy tugged on her hand to still her movements.
“Do you have something more to say?” Elizabeth asked, looking over her shoulder at him.
“I do not mean to pressure you about the ladies’ club. I know you wanted to do it out of reverence for my aunt, but I can see now how needed it is. Not only do ladies deserve a club of their own and their education should be supported for their own sake, I see now some men must learn an intelligent woman is nothing to fear. The school my aunt suggested is a most excellent idea.”
Darcy saw a flicker of terror enter Elizabeth’s eyes before she smiled. “Of course, both are marvelous notions, and I am committed to both. I would prefer to gain my footing in this world first. I must let them see who I am before I can ask for their support. If I cannot hold my own in our home, how should I ever manage such a fete?”
“There is nothing you cannot do, my love,” Darcy said and raised her hand to his lips. “I will trust you to know when the time is right. I only wanted to let you know that my feelings on the subject have changed from one of obligation to keen interest.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth nodded. “Now, how shall we explain our absence to our sisters?”
Darcy stood and walked around the bed. “We say nothing unless they ask. Then you can say you were busy with whatever it was you were doing before I returned.” Darcy paused as he focused on stepping into his trousers. “What was it you were doing? You never answered me.”
“I was with the housekeeper, darling.” Elizabeth’s voice was muffled as she held hairpins in her mouth. “Can you lace me up?”
Darcy smiled at the request. He did not know what other husbands and wives did. Did they call their maid and valet back upstairs to assist in redressing after a mid-day interlude? Whatever the others did, he did not care. He enjoyed these intimate moments with Elizabeth. He was growing quite adept at ladies garments. He smiled at the roguish thought.
Elizabeth turned when he had finished and looked at him. “What is that smirk for?”
“No reason,” he said as he sat on the edge of the bed so she could tie his cravat. “I wonder if Andrews fears for his position. You would make a fine valet.”
“You should be careful teasing the one who wraps linen around your neck,” Elizabeth said and tugged on the fabric for emphasis.
“I am all atremble,” Darcy laughed. “Why did you meet with Mrs. Lewis?”
“No, I simply wished to go over some menu plans. What shall we say you were doing?”
They now stood by the door, hand in hand. “The butler informed me of your whereabouts, and so I returned to my study.”
“And if they see us exit the room?”
“Then I suppose they will quickly learn to not be so observant,” Darcy said and squeezed Elizabeth’s waist earning a light thwack on his arm.
“You are incorrigible.”
“And you love it.”
Elizabeth laughed and shook her head. “I love you, silly. I merely put up with everything else.”
Darcy’s heart always beat faster when she said those words. He would never tire of hearing them. When she said that she loved him, he felt like the most powerful and worthy man in the world, like knights of old going off to slay a dragon. “I love you, Elizabeth,” he pressed a kiss to her temple before hearing her happy sigh and opening the door. If they must face the world, they would do so together.