Let’s see what’s up with Caroline and watch out for another (less dramatic) run-in with Mr. Collins. Do you think Darcy and Elizabeth are getting closer?
“There is no need to be so prickly. I am reconciled to Mr. Darcy’s choice in marrying you.”
“That is good as it cannot be undone.” Elizabeth huffed. Standing, she tossed her book down and passed by Miss Bingley with a look of disdain. She did not need to deal with this today of all days!
“Pray, forgive me,” Miss Bingley said before Elizabeth left the room. “I did not mean to antagonise you.”
Elizabeth turned to look at the woman. What was she even angry about? Miss Bingley had always been rude. Today, she had been more civil than usual. Elizabeth supposed her tolerance was lower today, and her nerves frayed from all the events. However, Miss Bingley appeared to have spoken truthfully. Nothing she had said would have been made with the intention to annoy. Elizabeth well knew the difference in Miss Bingley’s tone and gestures when she intended to wound. Sighing, Elizabeth lowered her shoulders. “You are forgiven. I apologise as well. I am not my usual self today.”
“No one can blame you for that.” Miss Bingley looked around nervously and then cleared her throat. “Do you find everything to your liking as Mrs. Darcy? Is there anything you or your family require?”
Elizabeth tried not to openly gape at her. Then, she recalled that Miss Bingley had always been an adequate host. She seemed to take great pride in the matter. “I think we have everything we need. I hope we can settle my family soon.”
“I am confident Mr. Darcy shall arrange all matters well.”
“What about the local company? Are you not friends with one of the ladies in particular? I think Sir William Lucas’ eldest daughter?”
“Yes. Charlotte is a dear friend.”
“I could invite her for a visit.”
Elizabeth shrugged. “Perhaps in a few days. I should like that, thank you.”
“And your sisters, they often walk to Meryton, do they not? Louisa and I could accompany them if you or Jane do not feel up for it. We have not shopped in the town very much and quite miss the past time.”
It could be avoided no longer. “What are you about? I know you have hated the area and thought lowly of all the residents, especially my family and my youngest sisters. You would loathe every second of a walk to Meryton with them.”
Miss Bingley sighed. “Just because I would not care for it, does not mean I should not offer for it. It is civil to take care of one’s guests. I would much rather be unhappy and do my duty than choose to please only myself and regret my lack of honour later.”
“I confess I had never supposed you thought so deeply about it. You often seem unhappy, though. Why do it all just to appease Society?”
“I do not do it to appease Society. Who would know of my actions here? No.” Miss Bingley shook her head. “I do have a sense of moral right and wrong. I might struggle to enjoy it, but I would hate it even more if I did nothing.”
Was Miss Bingley saying that she had flaws and was something less than the perfect woman? Elizabeth could barely credit it.
“I recall the pain of losing my father. I was also the second child and his favourite. There are times when it is difficult to have empathy for others and then…” her eyes grew misty, “then there are times when it is all too easy. I am only trying to be a friend.” She wiped a lone tear from an eye.
It was not what Elizabeth wanted to do. She desired to be justified in her dislike of Miss Bingley and never to question if the young woman had more profound reasons for her behaviour. However, she, too, had a sense of moral correctness. There was only one option. Elizabeth stuck out her hand. “I would like to be friends then. Thank you, Miss Bingley. Let us begin again.”
Miss Bingley placed her hand in Elizabeth’s. It was larger than hers and also softer and whiter. It was the hand of an elegant woman who had taken care to be seen as such. Strangely, it humbled Elizabeth. Miss Bingley need not be just like her, but the woman had honour and grace.
“You may call me Caroline.”
“Then, you must call me Elizabeth.”
“I would like that.” Caroline’s hand tightened around Elizabeth’s before releasing it. Her eyes wandered to the clock. “Now, I must talk to the housekeeper about this afternoon. Please let me know if you or your family need anything at all.”
Once alone in the library, Elizabeth marvelled at how different her life had become in such a short time. A little over a week ago, she had left Netherfield behind sure that all the residents save Mr. Bingley were conceited and bordering on mean-spirited. Now, she was married to one and seeing the merits of her hostess.
With a pang to her heart, she considered what her father might say at the news. Squeezing her eyes shut, she pushed the tears away. There was too much to do to spend time in grief. Retrieving her book, she returned to her mother’s room and insisted Jane rest. Mrs. Bennet remained silent and forlorn in her bed, and Elizabeth wondered if she would ever see the exuberance she had once mocked and detested return to her mother. In the oppressing quiet, she read until dark.
“It is a fine house, but what do you think, Mrs. Darcy?”
Darcy directed the question at Elizabeth as they walked around a potential home for her family about a week after her conversation with Caroline. Every time he addressed Elizabeth formally, it startled her. She did not know why. Her parents often called each other by their formal names, even among their children. In fact, she was uncertain her parents called one another by their Christian names more than a handful of times that she could remember. She had always thought that was another piece of proof that they did not love one another and barely tolerated each other. She had always hoped for more intimacy and familiarity with her husband. In the near fortnight since their marriage, Elizabeth realised it was slow to emerge.
She did not regret it, per se. Perhaps if it had not been the very same day that her father had died and then dealing with the alteration in being a new wife at the same time as her family being uprooted, she would have adjusted better. It surely did not help anything that although Netherfield was a large home, it was near to capacity, and there was little time or space for privacy for a newly married couple.
Darcy had been patient and saintly…but something was missing. They had become friendly and began and ended their days together. She had no complaints about their evenings in bed. However, she would sometimes observe Jane and Bingley murmur quietly to one another and watch with a secret yearning. Everyone had warned her this might be the price she would pay, there was no use in complaining about it now. She had been so focused on the fact that she would tolerate being miserable to secure her family, that Elizabeth had never considered how she would manage if she just felt…well, nothing. Her heart was empty.
“Mrs. Darcy?” He asked again when she had not replied.
Elizabeth glanced around the dining room, where they now stood to speak with the agent showing them the house. Everything was smaller than Longbourn. But then, Elizabeth supposed, that was to be expected of a widow and with fewer unmarried daughters. “The location is right, and so is the price. We do not have the luxury of time.” She nodded at the agent. “It will do.”
Darcy shook the agent’s hand. “If my wife is pleased, then so am I. Allow me to return Mrs. Darcy to Netherfield, and then I will be by your office to sign the papers. I estimate it will take a week to hire the staff and move all the things. However, the family will stay at Netherfield until after Christmas.”
“Very good, very good.” Mr. Davis said and showed them out of the house.
Once inside the carriage, Elizabeth leaned her head against Darcy’s shoulder. “Thank you for seeing to everything. I am so thankful we have you working for us.” She kissed him.
“Far be it from me to decry such a sweet payment, but you do not need to be so thankful. Mr. Gardiner would have done everything that I am now doing.”
“Yes, but I would have been weighed with the worry about his own finances. Even if he could manage to find a house for all of us, it would not be as large as what you have arranged. I am afraid you will just have to live with my gratitude.”
“I do not do it for your thanks, Elizabeth.”
Darcy’s tone was not rough or displeased, but she thought she saw a line of worry on his brow and a tightening of his lips before he glanced out the window. He had been looking that way more often lately. He had always gazed at her when he thought she was not looking. During his proposal, he had explained it was out of admiration. She did not fear it had ceased—yet—but there was some new emotion behind his gaze that she could not name. Just when she would have expected them to grow closer and become more accustomed to one another, it seemed there was some unspoken burden separating them. However, uncertain she could bear more problems at the moment, Elizabeth resolved not to inquire about it.
The following day, Elizabeth and Darcy were at Longbourn selecting which items could go to the new residence and which needed to be sold. In many of the rooms, Mr. Collins hovered with the entail in hand lest Elizabeth make off with anything belonging to the estate. In the dining room, she rolled her eyes at the thought. Years ago, Mrs. Bennet had bought better china and silver than the traditional Longbourn pieces. They did not bear the Longbourn emblem for the very reason that they would move with her when Mr. Bennet died.
In the library, Elizabeth asked Darcy if he could find some reason to expel Mr. Collins from her father’s sanctuary while she was present. Darcy requested to see the stables and direct Collins on the finer points of husbandry. While evidently still angry with Darcy and Elizabeth, Collins could not resist the possibility of advice from such a renowned master. No Meryton neighbour could offer as much insight.
It was too much for Elizabeth to see Collins as lord and master in her father’s favourite room. Additionally, it was not only the chamber of most significance to Elizabeth, but it also held the fewest estate pieces, Mr. Bennet having bought most of the items himself.
“Is it any wonder we had no savings?” she murmured to herself as she dusted off a previously cluttered shelf. She would not allow a servant to assist her.
Lovingly leafing through each volume and crossing her eyes to read her father’s small but distinct notes scrawled in the margins, Elizabeth gasped in surprise when something substantial and far thicker than a bookmark slipped from a page and crashed on the wood floor. Bending down to scoop up the broken pieces, she stared at what she held in her hand. She had thought this item lost.
“Papa,” she whispered at the bits of a broken watch.
“What is this?” Darcy said from behind her and laid a hand on her shoulder.
She had been so caught up in her own world that she did not even hear him come in. He helped her pick up the remaining fragments and then looked at what Elizabeth held in her hand. “A watch?”
Elizabeth nodded and turned the enamel case over. “I saw a fancy watch one time and wanted to buy Papa one. He always teased that he was forever late with a wife and five daughters. He would make a big joke out of consulting his watch.” She wiped at her eyes. “I saved up and bought him a cheap one, then asked Charlotte to paint my likeness on it. She is quite talented, really.”
“Indeed,” Darcy murmured behind her. “How old were you?”
“But twelve or thirteen. It is silly of me to cry over such a thing. It was only worth a pound. Lydia spends more on lace and ribbon in a week.”
“No, do not excuse it away. I am sure it had immeasurable value to your father.”
She nodded. “For a time, it was his most prized possession. I always thought he had lost it when he stopped carrying it about.” She tapped on a worn part. “I think now that perhaps it was not aging well, and he wanted to put it aside. It had just been a joke to me, so I was not upset when he no longer used it.”
“Are you not done in her yet?” Mr. Collins’ voice boomed from the hallway.
“Here, hand me the parts.” Darcy held out his hand, and Elizabeth put the broken pieces into his care. He put them inside his breast pocket just before Mr. Collins entered the room.
“It looks worse than when you started!”
“I have gone through all the books and items. Now, it is just a matter of packing them up.” She pointed to a large pile. “These are ones that I do not see the sense in keeping. They have no sentimental value, and we will not have space for them. Perhaps you would like to keep them?”
Collins inspected a few of them before laying them down in disgust. “It would have done my cousin better to vary his interests into theology or even estate management instead of all these volumes that question God, the monarchy, or both.” He glared at the book closest to Elizabeth, Candide, which the watch fell out of.
“You could sell them if you see fit.”
“Yes, I think I will.”
“Mr. Collins, can we trust that you will have the servants I provide pack these items?” Darcy asked. “You made notes of everything, Mrs. Darcy?” At Elizabeth’s nod, he returned his attention back to Collins. “The house will be ready a week from today. Then you will have Longbourn entirely to yourself.”
“I do not see why it should take so long. You should hire more people.”
Elizabeth contained an angry growl. It was a common enough retort from Collins over the last few days. He expected that Darcy had unlimited money and should use it so unwisely. Longbourn would be bankrupt in no time in Mr. Collins’ hands if he ran it the way he suggested everyone else operate live their lives. Beside her, Darcy stiffened. Elizabeth laid a soothing hand on his arm.
“Mr. Darcy has tried his best. Alas, some things are impossible. We regret that we must trespass on your kindness a little while longer. Perhaps the lord is testing you as he did Jacob, who laboured for so many years before being rewarded.”
Mr. Collins sighed and nodded. Elizabeth was pleased to see not all mention of faith was useless on the man. He had already hired a curate for his position in Hunsford, but would not give up the situation as it would add to his income. Despite his miserliness, it seemed he feared the wrath of the lord.
Once ensconced in the carriage and on their way to Netherfield, Elizabeth rested her head on Darcy’s broad shoulder. He called for trays to be delivered to their room and a relaxing bath for his wife. Afterward, he would not allow her to stir from the chamber and saw to all her needs. As she fell asleep in his arms, she thought that while it might be taking them longer than she had hoped to learn all the nuances of each other, he could be exceptionally attuned to her and was exceedingly comforting and caring. If she had been asked a month ago what qualities she desired most in a husband, she would not have ranked those qualities as high as she apparently needed them in her life.