I’m sorry it’s been so long since I posted a chapter! Last week was busy and I just didn’t have time to edit any and get them scheduled. I wish I could say I was busy with writing, but I wasn’t! I’m at the point where I’m eager to finish this story though (I’m a few chapters ahead of this one) and I’m hoping the final chapters will just come through in a few days of pushing. Of course, I don’t know that I’ll have time for that but there is a few hours’ car ride coming up this week for Thanksgiving.
The Bennets are preparing to “invade” Netherfield. Does this bring Darcy and Elizabeth closer together or push them apart? And will there be too many personalities under one roof?
Mr. Darcy sent his valet to Netherfield with a note for Bingley and a request for carriages and wagons. Immediate effects were packed as quickly as possible, and in a few hours, the Bennet family’s invasion of Netherfield was complete. Elizabeth avoided meeting the eyes of Bingley’s sisters. She was certain they held condemnation, or worse—pity.
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were invited for dinner, but they would be staying with Mr. and Mrs. Phillips in Meryton. Mrs. Bennet remained in her chamber for the meal, and while Elizabeth offered to sit with her mother, Mrs. Gardiner insisted that the new bride eat with her husband. Returning to the chamber after the meal, Mrs. Gardiner drew her niece aside before her departure.
“Lizzy, I wanted to speak with you. I have held my tongue about it for several days now as there has been so much going on. However, I still do not understand how Mr. Darcy came to offer for you.”
Elizabeth sighed and told her aunt the story. Anger rose in her as she recalled Mr. Collins’ insensitive proposal and his actions of the day. It cast Mr. Darcy’s offer in an even more charitable light.
“But I thought you hated him? In your letters to me, you did not appear to think well of him.”
“Indeed, I did not. I wanted to refuse him but felt I could not. I had prepared myself to accept Mr. Collins—”
“Oh! How glad I am that you were saved from marriage to him!”
Elizabeth nodded. “Yes, I am as well.”
“And do you think better of Mr. Darcy now? I know it has only been a few days, but he has been extraordinarily thoughtful and kind.”
“He has.” Elizabeth blushed and smiled at the memory of his tenderness with her mother. “I was prepared to make life as happy as possible with him. Now, I think it will not be the trial I once feared. I was not prepared to esteem him so.”
“He is quite smitten with you.”
Elizabeth felt the heat on her face grow. Too flustered for words, she remained silent.
“You do not have to say anything in return, my dear. I only wanted to caution you on the danger of unequal affections in a marriage. Typically, it is the woman who is in love, and the man has married her for other reasons. That is a sure recipe for heartbreak as we both know the standard for fidelity in marriage is different for men than women.”
“Not in my marriage,” Elizabeth declared.
“You have discussed this with Mr. Darcy?” At Elizabeth’s nod, she smiled. “That is very good.” She placed a hand on Elizabeth’s. “I only suggest that you be considerate of his feelings. Do not dismiss them so freely in the assumption they match your own.”
Shame filled Elizabeth. Yesterday, she had done precisely that. Could her aunt be speaking the truth? Did Darcy care for her more than she did for him? Well, he had admitted to admiring her character and finding her attractive. He had been most eloquent in that area. Whereas Elizabeth had not thought highly of him at all. They had even discussed it. However, was he enamoured with her? Elizabeth had only supposed he was being very civil and kind. The actions he took to alleviate their suffering today were no more than she expected an affable young man such as Mr. Bingley would take. Indeed, although it was Darcy’s idea, it was Bingley’s home.
“You would take care to not guard your heart too much, as well, Elizabeth.” Her aunt squeezed her arm. “Now, I must go. Your uncle and I will visit tomorrow, although I am uncertain how long we can remain in the area after the funeral.”
“I am very relieved that you came at all. I do not know how I would have handled today if not for you and my uncle.”
Mrs. Gardiner smiled. “I have no fear at all that your Mr. Darcy would have handled everything magnificently.” She placed a kiss to Elizabeth’s cheek and departed.
Elizabeth sat with her mother and read aloud, willing her mind to not think too much about all her aunt had said. She had a lifetime with Darcy to consider it all. Additionally, she tried not to ruminate on the events of the morrow, the drama of the day, or even the task of finding her family a new home. Instead, she attempted to focus entirely on the words before her. Eventually, she heard the sounds of the others retiring for the evening.
After a gentle knock, she opened the door to find Jane. “Are you certain you wish to sit with Mama tonight? I could ask a maid or remain with her?”
“There is no reason for you to shoulder all the burden yourself,” Jane said. “Allow yourself rest. If I tire too much, I will wake Mary. We can all take turns.”
“Very well,” Elizabeth said. She nodded to the book. “I will leave that for you. I do not know if it is because I have already read this volume or for other reasons, but I found it impossible to focus on. I hope you will have better luck with it.”
Once seated in her chamber and after dismissing the maid who helped her undress, Elizabeth nervously glanced at the door which adjoined her room to a sitting room. On the other side of the room was Darcy’s chamber. Netherfield was more substantial and newer than Longbourn with several state apartments, which allowed options for married visitors. Would Darcy come to her room this night? They had not discussed it. In fact, she had not seen or spoken to him privately since arriving at Netherfield. Surely if he were as infatuated with her as Mrs. Gardiner thought, he would have found some excuse to see her!
Despite such thoughts, her eyes were drawn once more to the door. At just that moment, a gentle but firm knock made her jump, and a small squeal came from her throat. The door flung open, and Darcy rushed into the room.
“Are you well?” He reached her side in quick strides, and his eyes ran over her body before searching the room. His large hands ran over her arms and clutched her hands. Finally, his gaze returned to her. “What frightened you?”
Elizabeth laughed. “Only you! I was distracted, and your knock startled me. That is all.”
The tension in Darcy’s frame eased. “I am relieved. I did not mean to surprise you, though. Were you not expecting me? Would you rather I leave?”
Elizabeth gulped. “No.”
“Are you asking me to stay or telling me to leave?” He looked as confused and nervous as Elizabeth felt.
Deciding words were useless, Elizabeth stood and kissed Darcy. She could feel him holding back, but she was persistent. Finally, he wrapped his arms around her, and they lost themselves in the kiss. Unfortunately, he pulled away a few minutes later.
“You must be exhausted after today.” Darcy’s eyes searched hers. “I am not given to fisticuffs, but I do not know when I last desired to thrash a man as much as I wished to do so to Collins today—”
“William,” Elizabeth interrupted. “You are talking too much.” She punctuated her words with a kiss. “Can you make me forget everything? I am so tired of thinking—”
Elizabeth did not need to say more. Darcy swept her into his arms and carried her to the bed. When they kissed again, it caught fire.
Elizabeth awoke some hours later and rolled over in Darcy’s arms. The night had been blissful, and Darcy did a magnificent job of making her lose all thought. He really was a stunning man. She had always found him handsome, but then he opened his mouth at the assembly, and her prejudice took over from there. Now that she had seen him in intimate moments and with the night casting shadows over his face, he looked more beautiful than any man had a right to be. How had she caught him? Surely there were prettier ladies than she in the ton. Why had he passed over all of them? Pushing a lock of hair from his brow, she sighed. Unexpectedly, Darcy reached for her hand and kissed it.
“Why are you awake?” he murmured, sleep making his voice huskier and lower than usual.
“I cannot say, but now that you are, should you not leave?”
“No. Go back to sleep.”
Elizabeth waited for him to explain himself, but instead, she heard his breathing slow indicating he had fallen asleep again.
“William,” Elizabeth nudged him awake. “Are you returning to your chamber?”
Darcy opened one sleepy eye. “Are you asking me to go?”
She blushed. “Is that not what husbands and wives do? I had thought a man of your position would keep to the traditional way of doing things.”
“I do not care so much about traditions that I desire to sleep separately from my wife when we are in the same house.” He pulled her closer to him. “Indeed, I hate the thought of having to separate from you ever.”
“However, if you wish for me to go to my chamber, I will respect your wishes.”
“No…no, that is…you may stay.”
Elizabeth’s breath caught as Darcy proved just why it was such a good idea for him to stay in her bed.
The following morning dawned with sunny skies, but Elizabeth could not forget that it was the day of her father’s funeral. It was not the typical custom for women of her class to attend the funeral. However, at times, she considered flaunting the accepted norm.
She knew there were different forms of grief. Charlotte’s brother closest to her in age had died of measles while at school. She had told Elizabeth that, at first, she would sometimes forget and think of things she wished to tell him and include in a letter. Then, she would remember the awful truth. For Elizabeth, however, there was no forgetting that Mr. Bennet had died. Even if she were not as close to him and used to seeing him so often every day, she doubted anyone could forget the drama which expelled them from their home. Perhaps that would make moving on easier for all of them, but Elizabeth was not entirely sure.
Darcy insisted on Elizabeth resting as much as possible that day. He even ordered for a tray to be brought up her for breakfast. She and her sisters took turns sitting with Mrs. Bennet while Darcy and Bingley were away for much of the day dealing with the final funeral arrangements and beginning the search of housing for the single Bennet ladies. She knew there was some debate about how long they ought to stay at Netherfield. Bingley would argue that they were all welcome to stay as long as possible, but Darcy would doggedly tell him that eventually, Mrs. Bennet would wish to be in charge of her own household. At which time, Bingley would launch into a discussion about how they would only need three bedrooms as Jane would not need to leave Netherfield.
Regardless of how long her family stayed at Netherfield, Elizabeth knew that Darcy desired to settle all matters as swiftly as possible. She knew, too, that he would soon wish to leave Hertfordshire and return to his normal life. She mused over these thoughts while staring at a page in the library when Miss Bingley entered. Immediately, Elizabeth stood to leave. She felt all the awkwardness of being in the lady’s home so soon after her last visit in which they parted on barely cordial terms.
“There is no need to leave, Miss Elizabeth. Pardon me, Mrs. Darcy.”
Elizabeth scrutinised the woman for some hint of intentional insult. Surprisingly, she found none. “Thank you.” She returned to her seat.
“I admire your ability to leave your chamber. I know your sisters have kept to theirs.”
Elizabeth merely nodded. She remained unsure if Miss Bingley was sending barbs at her.
“I hoped to find you. I had thought your family would appreciate a casual meal. Perhaps we will simply have things laid out, and if they wish to remain in their rooms, making a tray will be quite easy.”
Elizabeth gaped at the woman before her who had not hesitated to order elaborate courses whilst she stayed during Jane’s illness. Additionally, consulting her on matters was the last thing Elizabeth expected. “Thank you. That is very considerate.”
“I had thought you were the one to ask rather than Jane. I see we are alike in that way. We are the ones in the family that get things done.”
If Miss Bingley had surprised Elizabeth before, she was utterly astounded now. It had never crossed her mind; they might have anything in common. “If it does not upset you to speak about it, how long ago did your parents pass?”
“Papa passed when I was about your age. I believe you are nearly one and twenty?” Elizabeth nodded in confirmation. “My mother passed a year ago. She had been unwell after Papa died. We were not very different from you, you know.”
“We rented a house, more like Longbourn than Netherfield. We were able to stay until the lease ended, but then my mother could not renew it. We ended up living with an aunt until my sister married.” She gave Elizabeth a meaningful look. “Perhaps you see now why we are most anxious that Charles buys a house.”
“Indeed. Thankfully, your family has the freedom to purchase.” There might be some common ground between her and Miss Bingley, but Elizabeth could not forget that the Bingleys were far richer than the Bennets. How curious that the very Society which Miss Bingley hoped to join shunned the close relationship to trade, and yet, it is what made the Bingleys more independent and fortunate than the Bennets.
“My sister and I understand more than Charles the great fortune we have in being able to purchase. We remember the times of uncertainty and are most anxious that it should not be left for another generation.” Miss Bingley sighed. “I understand we are to be sisters.”
“Are you reconciled to your brother’s choice then?”
“I will not pretend that I am entirely pleased. Other ladies could do more for us. I had hoped Mr. Darcy could talk some sense into him, but, alas, he has made his choice in the House of Bennet as well.”
Elizabeth fought the urge to roll her eyes. She knew Miss Bingley could not avoid mentioning her marriage to Darcy for long. “I understand you had wished for a union between your two families. I am happy my sister, and I were able to provide the avenue for you.”