I’m sorry it’s taken so long to post again! Treasured required all of my attention! Then, I had wanted to do a Christmas story and told myself I had one week to do it in. It took 10 days, but close enough. 🙂
We left Darcy and Elizabeth with tender apologies and sweet kisses. This chapter sees them get to know one another a little better–both the positive and negative sides of it. Will Darcy tell her about Georgiana?
The following morning, Elizabeth awoke in Darcy’s arms again. They had passed the day taking turns reading to one another. Molly came after supper to assist her in getting ready for bed. By the time they went to sleep, Elizabeth had forgotten about Darcy promising to tell her why he now hated London.
Elizabeth thought about what Darcy had said. Molly did not seem like she was trying to find more information about Elizabeth. She did not ask any intrusive questions and did not mention any more vulgar things about their awkward situation. However, Elizabeth saw the sense in being circumspect and not trusting Molly too far. A part of her mourned the decision. She had a few thoughts that Molly could come to Pemberley with her. After all, she was friendless in the world.
She sighed, and Darcy stirred in his sleep. She had learned he snored. She had not noticed the first night because she was so anxious. Last night, she barely slept. When she did, the noises he made were so loud she could not forget that she was in his chamber and to be his wife. Not that she could have escaped if she had wanted thanks to her ankle. She gently flexed the joint. It grew stronger but would pain her to put any weight on it.
Of course, last night was not entirely unpleasant. When it was time to retire for the night, they lay in bed and faced each other. Her hair fanned over her pillow and Darcy reverently stroked it before giving her a good night kiss. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, his breathing turned silent, and she finally entered a deep slumber. Now, she awoke in his arms.
Looking up at him, a soft smile played on Elizabeth’s lips. She had thought he was handsome when they first met, but then he opened his mouth, and she let her prejudice continue from there. When asleep, he looked positively angelic. The great artists should use him as a model. Elizabeth had never seen anything so special about Michelangelo’s David, but Fitzwilliam Darcy was a worthy specimen to be cultured from marble.
Redirecting her thoughts, Elizabeth wondered why she had been so quick to consider the worst about Darcy. Months ago, she had realized it was due to her vanity. That is why she believed Wickham so easily. However, that is not why she doubted she was worthy of Darcy’s love.
She had not told Darcy all of her tale. How could she? How could anyone explain the insecurities which festered in her? She was so new to considering how her mother manipulated everyone around her—most of all her—that she could hardly say it to another. One day, he would see the true her—all her flaws—and he would regret his choice. Would it be as unbearable as when her father realized the truth about his wife? Was she destined to turn into her mother; taking offense at everything and shrieking for attention?
“How long have you been awake?” Darcy’s sleepy voice said.
“Not long,” she answered meekly. “Did I wake you?”
“No.” He stretched, seeming impossibly relaxed in her presence and then clutched her to him with his good arm. “I cannot think of a better way to awaken. How did you sleep?”
Elizabeth did not wish to lie, but she could not bear to tell him the truth. Soon, she was sure, she would adjust to sharing a bed with him. “Do you know that I have not been able to sleep as late as I would like in years? Mother had strict expectations, and then I was working here…” Elizabeth shrugged. “How did you sleep?”
“Very well,” he said and squeezed her tightly again. “How shall we spend the day? I think we may only have one or two more nights before we can set off.”
Elizabeth drew back. “The physician said you should not travel for a week.”
“I usually recover faster than physicians give credit for. Come, let us prepare for the day and then we can talk about our route.”
Elizabeth agreed, but Darcy did not move. “Do you not wish to rise for the day?”
“No,” Darcy shook his head. “I do not wish it. I would stay in bed with you all day if I could.” He let out a long sigh. “I would kiss you, but I do not think it is wise.”
“Is there a reward for being always wise?”
Darcy furrowed his brow. “I would hope to never be foolish.”
“And is it foolish to assure your betrothed of your continuing love?”
Darcy stared at Elizabeth for a long moment, and she held her breath. Had she gone too far? Been too bold? Why did she desire his kiss so much?
“If a kiss would assure you of that, then I would give it.” He stroked her cheek. “I worry about being too selfish, but then you show me that to love is to give unceasingly.”
Elizabeth pondered his words, but before she could allow them to solidify in her mind, he pressed a light kiss to one cheek and then the other. Next, he kissed the tip of her nose and eyelids. His lips lingered on her forehead, and Elizabeth sighed at the sensation. Finally, he brushed his lips against hers in the gentlest of kisses.
“I love you, Elizabeth.”
Darcy said nothing else nor did their kiss turn passionate as it had before. Instead, he held her to his chest for several minutes. It was a new sensation for Elizabeth. She felt safe and cherished. If love were a tangible thing, it must be Darcy’s arms wrapped around her at this moment. In his arms, she felt protected from all the outside world and even from the sea of torment in her mind and heart. She held back for a few minutes before allowing the emotional release she needed. Darcy seemed to understand what to do. As she sobbed into his chest, he simply held her and stroked her back. Now and then he murmured to her about his love.
Unused to allowing herself to feel vulnerable, the spell did not last long. “I am well now,” she assured Darcy.
She was not entirely well and might never be. He offered his heart while hers had been smashed to smithereens. However, she was nothing if not falsely courageous and so she pretended confidence as per usual. She would feel well, and whole some day, she told herself and yet doubted every word.
Darcy left to tend to his ablutions and called in Molly to assist Elizabeth. This time, Elizabeth did not need to remember Darcy’s words to be circumspect. She was too deep in thought to chat comfortably. What she needed was activity. She had always been an awful patient and was unused to sitting idly, especially since working here. Darcy returned just as breakfast arrived, and Elizabeth asked after his usual morning activities.
“After breakfast, I tend to the morning’s correspondence.”
“I recall the number of letters you received at Netherfield. That must take considerable time.”
“It did at first,” Darcy admitted. “However, I soon came up with a system of prioritization to manage it.”
“I wonder you do not have a secretary to assist you.”
“My father did, but I prefer to see to the task myself.”
“That is just what I expected,” Elizabeth smiled.
“I see you begin to understand me,” Darcy returned her smile.
It reminded Elizabeth of Mr. Bingley’s long-ago words when she had said the same thing to him. However, she was not prepared to discuss Mr. Bingley and wisely refrained from mentioning him. Soon, they would have to address the situation of Jane’s aborted courtship, but Elizabeth was in no hurry to do so when she did not have two good legs to walk on.
“And you?” Darcy asked. “I have often wondered how you would spend your mornings.”
Momentarily, panic welled in Elizabeth. Memories of Longbourn flooded her. The constant noise of her sisters, the agitation of her mother, the nagging feeling of just never being good enough. She clamped it down. No one needed to hear those thoughts. “I spent a great deal of time walking.”
“You are too modest,” Darcy said. “You had told Miss Bingley that you had an interest in many things. Or was that only a ruse to put her off?” He sat back and crossed a leg over his knee as he sipped his tea.
Elizabeth chuckled. “The subject at hand was books, if I recall, not walking.”
“Have no fear, she has insulted you by calling you a ‘great walker’ although you did not hear it.”
“Happy am I to know that Miss Bingley’s insults continue even when I am not in earshot. What a faithful acquaintance.” She laughed at the other woman’s folly. “I do enjoy reading, although I often found Longbourn too noisy in the mornings to read.”
“What sort of books do you prefer?”
He had tried asking her that once before, during their dance at Mr. Bingley’s ball. She had refused to answer then, her mind consumed with Wickham. The man who she had championed and then seduced and abandoned her sister. She had been so blind and stupid!
“I enjoy history,” Darcy prodded.
Elizabeth sighed. He was trying so hard for her sake, she knew. He had done it at the ball, and various times while she had stayed at Netherfield as well. She felt the compliment of his efforts. “I have read nearly everything in my father’s library but what I most enjoy are travel journals. It seems impossible to comprehend that other places can look so very different, people act so differently than us. I read their descriptions of the land or sky and wonder how we exist under the same sun.”
“You have left Longbourn.”
“Yes, but only to London. Before everything happened with Lydia and Jane, there was talk of my aunt and uncle taking a long tour of the Lake District. I was to go with them.” Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. It was just the death of another dream. She hardly dared to believe in them anymore. She felt no pain when they unfailingly did not work out.
“Ah, I see,” Darcy nodded. “You think of these other places while you walk?”
“I have always had a vivid imagination,” Elizabeth grinned. “We might call it Oakham Mount and its elevation nothing high, but I have seen the hills of Rome from there. In the green shoots of March in Hertfordshire, I have viewed the greenest fields of Ireland. A river might as well be the channel.”
“Perhaps now would be a good time to discuss our route to Scotland, then.”
Elizabeth gulped at Darcy’s words. Leaving this inn would set her on a path she could not stop. How she had prayed for such an opportunity for months. She had always dreamed of a band of gypsies taking her in or a child begging for her to be its governess. She had never dared to think that Mr. Darcy would appear at this inn and offer her marriage. Marriage was not a possibility for her now. She had been conditioned to believe that it was always unlikely. She had sunk so low, and her best qualities stripped from her. Who would notice her? Who could love her? She could not even like herself.
“Does it distress you to speak about it?” Darcy asked.
Elizabeth quickly shook her head and smiled. She would need to watch herself if she did not want Darcy asking more questions and learning all the ugly truth. The contradiction made her head swirl. She could not return his love, and yet she hated the idea of losing it. She felt guilty for fraudulently earning it. He was under the impression she was good and worthy and could not be more wrong. However, she could not bring herself to tell him.
“Please, tell me,” Elizabeth beseeched.
“I had thought we would go to Holy Head.”
“Oh!” Elizabeth cried. “I had not expected that. We will not take the North Road?”
“I think it too well-travelled and we do not want to risk anyone recognizing us.”
Recognizing him, Elizabeth amended in her head. They would need to travel under false names. It would be no extreme thing for them to have eloped. The problem would be if anyone would determine their route. The world must never know that she had been Lizzy Smith the Bar Maid. Still, Holy Head proved to be intriguing. “Will we sail to Scotland then?”
“Have you sailed before?” Darcy asked.
“No,” Elizabeth replied as excitement built in her. “I never thought I would have the opportunity to either.”
Suddenly, she thought better of her reaction. She should not be so pleased that she was in this situation and forced to elope. They could not even go the standard route. She was selfish. Darcy watched her, a look of growing confusion on his face. To avert questions about her change in demeanour, she redirected his attention. “I did not think we could reach Gretna Green by boat.”
“True, but an anvil marriage is the same anywhere in Scotland. We shall be going to Portpatrick. Have you heard of it?”
Elizabeth thought before answering. “My father’s books were mostly about the locations he visited on his Grand Tour.”
“I would love to hear about them someday. I had to make do with a trip to Scotland and Ireland. Napoleon made travel too unsafe.” He sighed. “One day, when the war is over, we will make a grand tour of the Continent. Where would you like most to visit?”
“I will be pleased to go anywhere,” she said before quickly adding, “with you.”
“Elizabeth,” Darcy said as he enveloped one of her hands in his. “It is perfectly allowable to be selfish. I do not wish you to defer to me over everything.”
“Surely I have not. Do you not recall our arguments merely since being in this room together?”
“Indeed, I do. However, I mean about decisions regarding our life together.”
“When I have a great opinion, I will share it, I assure you.”
“Very well,” Darcy said and released her hand.
He seemed annoyed to Elizabeth. She could hardly imagine what frustrated him when she was trying so hard to be agreeable.
“Portpatrick is popular among the Irish for hasty marriages the way Gretna Green is in England. We can be lost in a city with many strangers, and most of them do not stay longer than an hour or two. There is no reason to pretend to be anyone but ourselves or fear we will be recognized en route.”
“Splendid,” Elizabeth grinned. “Did you say it was near Ireland?”
“I believe it is only a few hours by boat,” Darcy said. “You may even be able to see the coast.”
“May we visit?”
“Certainly,” Darcy grinned.
There, Elizabeth thought. And he had acted as though she were a shrinking violet. It was true she guarded her personal feelings and how they often felt like a ship tossed about on the waves during a fearsome storm, but she was unafraid to state her opinion about things of little consequence.
“Now, I believe we have promised to read to one another.” Darcy produced a few books. “Shall I read first?”
Elizabeth agreed but hardly knew how to occupy herself during his task. As much as she hated it, at home, she would have at least had a work bag and embroidery. She needed something to keep her hands busy lest she allow her mind to wander and go mad. He read for about a half an hour before handing the book to her. She closed it and put it aside.
“I would rather talk than read. Will you tell me about your sister?”