Some distance makes the heart grow fonder, right?
“Would you care to join me for a walk in the garden?” Darcy asked Elizabeth a few days after they had last been at Longbourn. It was now three weeks since their wedding, and while the temperature continued to drop, it was not too cold for a brisk walk near the house.
Darcy had observed what appeared to be a truce between Elizabeth and Miss Bingley. The younger Bennet girls were sufficiently subdued after their father’s death and their displacement from home. They had not become entirely different people, but grief often had a taming factor. Bingley only delayed his proposal while Jane was in deep mourning, and Mrs. Bennet seldom stirred from her chamber.
Soon, the Bennets would be settled in the house Darcy had bought in Meryton. It was not a manor house as he had first hoped, but they had lost the luxury of time due to Mr. Collins’ pettiness. Darcy and Elizabeth had not talked about when they would leave Hertfordshire. He began to grow concerned that the impending separation would no be more complicated than if it had been made immediately after their marriage. There was some hesitance on Elizabeth’s part that he could sense but could not name.
Elizabeth had not responded to his question, and he looked up from his newspaper at the breakfast table and saw her gazing out the window, evidently lost in thought. He placed his hand over hers, and she turned her eyes on him. That was good, he thought. At least she no longer startled when he took such liberties as though she forgot he existed.
“Did you say something to me? I apologise, I was wool-gathering.”
“I asked if you would like to join me on a walk.”
“What time is it? I had planned to sit with Mama later.”
Darcy consulted his watch, tapping his other pocket, which held her father’s token and remained concealed from Elizabeth’s view. When he next journeyed to London, he would have it mended for her. “There is time for a brief walk. I am certain your sisters do not mind.”
Elizabeth agreed and sent a maid to gather her pelisse. Once outside, Darcy found his tongue and mind arguing about what to say. This frequently happened when alone with Elizabeth. Sometimes she took the burden on herself to fill the quiet. However, more and more, she said nothing. What began as companionable silence now felt awkward. Darcy began to feel a noose around his neck. If they did not bridge the gap between them, they might grow into it. While he had suggested they marry for her family’s sake, he had imagined the intimacy which grew in marriage to be far easier to attain than he experienced.
After several minutes, Darcy cleared his throat. “I thought I might tell you more about my life in London.”
Elizabeth looked at him in surprise, but then smoothed her features. “I do confess to curiosity.”
“I have not frequently attended soirees or balls in the past, but accepting invitations will fall to you, of course.”
“Do you receive many invitations from your friends?”
“Bingley is the only person with whom I socialise with any regularity. I do have other companions I will meet at the club, but they have never hosted events. I am no fan of the matrons at Almacks’.”
“You mean you disliked all the matchmaking and gossip that happened.” Elizabeth laughed.
“Indeed.” Darcy chuckled. “However, I do have a friend from University who has recently married. He writes that his wife desires to hold a small dinner after Twelfth Night.”
Elizabeth shuddered against a light breeze. “Do you desire to attend?”
“I should like to introduce you to my family and friends, Elizabeth.”
“I thought your family did not approve of our match.”
“Most do not. However, some shall. Georgiana will give unwavering support, such as it means from a fifteen-year-old girl. My cousin, who is in the army, shall be in London after the new year. He has never cared about wealth or connections. I believe he is the only other person beside you who has dared to tease me so much.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Poor Mr. Darcy, so put upon by his demanding wife.”
“Invigorated by his enchanting wife, you mean,” he said and raised one of her knuckles to his lips.
She sighed. “Very well. I suppose it is only fair that we discuss leaving Meryton and taking our place among your society. You have been more than generous with staying here so long, especially as I know you did not wish to begin our marriage at Netherfield.”
“London is half a day’s journey. We can return to Meryton whenever you wish.” He kissed her knuckles again. “Camden can be quite influential, and if my aunt and uncle refuse to give us support, then we shall have his.”
“The Marquess of Camden?” Elizabeth’s brows shot to her hairline.
“And therefore, he trumps an earl.”
“Are you truly good friends with him? I am still in mourning…”
“Yes, Camden and I have been great friends for years. No one shall say that you have done anything improper. Your half-mourning shall nearly be done, and it is only a small, intimate meal.”
Darcy could sense Elizabeth’s hesitance. She looked up at him, her dark eyes attempting to read his own. In the unspoken connection it sometimes seemed they had, he implored her to trust him. Finally, she agreed with a little nod and a smile. Somehow, when she put her trust in him, he felt like he was given the greatest treasure in the world. It never failed to warm his soul.
“I will go on one condition.” Elizabeth arched her brow in a teasing matter.
“What is that?”
“I must hear all about your childhood adventures with this cousin and scandalous stories from your youth with Lord Camden.”
Darcy threw his head back and laughed. “A fair bargain, madam, but I think you might be disappointed if you expect me to star in the stories.”
“Ah, so you are merely the loyal friend to the scapegraces.”
Chuckling again, Darcy led them back to the house. Along the way, he regaled his wife with stories of pranks played on governesses and schoolmasters with his cousin Richard, and Camden’s surprising ability to ace his examinations while entirely drunk. By the time they were inside, Elizabeth’s cheeks were rosy from more than the cold outside. Walking to her mother’s chamber, Darcy thought she had more of a skip in her step than usual. It did his heart good to see his wife shrug off her grief, if only for a moment. Unfortunately, no sooner than he made his way to the library to attend his correspondence, did the tentative building of joy evaporate. Mr. Gardiner requested assistance from Darcy, which required a journey to London.
Leaving an indifferent looking Elizabeth behind, Darcy arrived in London by nightfall. Georgiana was already abed, but he greeted her over breakfast. Then, he left for his errand in assisting Mr. Gardiner. The man probably did not expect so much exertion from him. Still, Darcy knew the gentleman in question with unpaid accounts at Gardiner’s shop. He would avoid paying a tradesman as long as possible despite having the funds. He simply hated the merchant class. Darcy may not have always been so liberal in his friends, but men like Horatio Matthews had always disgusted him.
Darcy entered his club and scanned the room. He had few interactions with Mr. Matthews, and even fewer of them were pleasant. He was everything Darcy hated the most about the ton.
“Matthews,” Darcy said with a bow when he found the man.
“Darcy! Back from the country? Did I hear that you got married?”
“Yes, I have been married a little over a fortnight.”
“And to a nobody!”
“Mrs. Darcy was little known in London Society, yes.” It would do him no favours to take Umbridge with Matthews’ insult. Apparently passing muster, the man motioned for Darcy to sit next to him.
“Well, when shall we meet her?”
“Her father has recently died, and she will be in mourning for several more months. However, Lord Camden has invited us to dine after Twelfth Night. Her half-mourning will be nearly over then.”
“I had not heard of him hosting anything. Got himself a marchioness, I believe. I had hoped he would take Sophia off my hands, but I have high hopes for her this upcoming season.”
Matthews had a reputation for hating his fellow man, but he did adore his only daughter. It was his only weakness. “How does Miss Matthews do?”
“Fit as a fiddle! She will arrive with her mother after Christmas. Perhaps she will attend Camden’s soiree.”
“It is only to be a small dinner, held in honour of my wife. I believe there will only be a handful of other guests present.”
The man harrumphed as though upset at the slight, but his eyes showed eagerness. Just as Darcy had hoped, he wanted an invitation to the dinner. “Lord Palmerston and Mr. Henry Grantley will be there, along with their wives.”
“Affable chaps. I have heard good things about their business interests. Any single men?”
Darcy nodded. “The Earl of Hillcrest and I believe my cousins, Lord Fairfax and Colonel Fitzwilliam.” Over the years, Matthews had made his interest in the Fitzwilliam family no secret.
Matthew’s eyes widened in interest. “I have always admired your relations, Darcy. It is a pity I do not see more of them.”
“Perhaps I could acquire an invitation for you—and your wife and daughter.”
“That would be most delightful.”
“I am happy to hear you say you admire my relations because I believe you are acquainted with some of my wife’s.”
“What was her maiden name?”
“Bennet. Her father had an estate in Hertfordshire.”
“I know of no Bennets in Hertfordshire.”
“I am unsurprised. However, I think you may know her uncle, Mr. Gardiner of Gardiner Linen and Silk Emporium?”
Matthews gulped. “I have met him a few times. I am astonished that you would marry a girl with ties to trade.”
“Mr. Gardiner is very gentlemanly, which is more than I can say for many of the gentry who do not pay their debts. Camden will cut a man direct for refusing to pay anyone, even a tradesman.” Darcy pulled out his watch. “Please excuse me. I have an appointment. I shall see about that invitation if it still suits you. I am sure Miss Matthews has just the gown to wear.”
“I—yes, I am sure she does after the bill I got from the shop.”
“Good day.” Darcy stood and bowed.
At his home a few hours later, Darcy received a note from Mr. Gardiner that Matthews paid his outstanding debt in a total of one thousand pounds. Gardiner also invited Darcy to dinner.
When Darcy arrived, the Gardiner children were sitting with their parents. He had not seen them when he first met the Gardiners, and the likeness of the eldest daughter to Elizabeth struck him.
“I hope you do not mind the informality, Darcy,” Mr. Gardiner said.
“Certainly not. Shall they dine with us?”
Four pairs of eyes eagerly swung to their parents’ faces, and Darcy had to hold back a chuckle.
“Not tonight,” Mrs. Gardiner answered. “Perhaps at a future date, Emily will join us.”
One of the boys opened his mouth to argue, but a stern look from Mrs. Gardiner stifled it. Instead, the child turned his attention to Darcy. “Are you really married to Cousin Lizzy?”
“Where is Lizzy?”
Darcy glanced at the boy’s parents, unsure how much he had been told.
“Edmund,” Mrs. Gardiner said, “do you remember we told you that Lizzy would not be here? Mr. Darcy came to Town to do a favour for Papa.”
“But why could Lizzy not come too?”
The question hit close to Darcy’s heart. He had seldom been parted from her for more than an hour or two since their wedding.
“Well,” Mrs. Gardiner said with a sigh. “The journey is not always so pleasant, and Mr. Darcy will soon be returning. Lizzy is not feeling very well right now and is needed by her family.”
“Isn’t Mr. Darcy her family too now? You always miss Papa when he is away, and he says he misses you too.” The child turned his eyes back to Darcy. “You must miss Lizzy.”
“I do,” Darcy said with a nod, feeling he had never said anything so accurate in his life. “However, like your mother says, she was needed by her mother and sisters. Elizabeth did not want to travel just now.”
“Because of Uncle Bennet?”
Again, Darcy looked toward Edmund’s parents, who silently communicated that their children knew of their uncle’s passing. “Yes, because your Uncle Bennet passed away.”
“Mama says that he is with the angels now, and we should not be sad. Why is Lizzy sad then?”
Darcy took a deep breath. How did one explain so difficult a concept to so small a person? “Well, you can be happy that a person is in Heaven and sad that you do not get to see them all the time. I miss your cousin Lizzy not because she or I are unhappy, but because I wish she could be right here with me.”
“Oh.” Edmund’s eyes had grown wide, and he nodded in understanding. Suddenly, he turned to his mother. “Mama, I am hungry. May we have our dinner now?”
Mrs. Gardiner laughed. “Yes, you all may be excused. Listen to nanny and wash up. Your dinner should soon be ready.”