My daughter’s been sick with cold 2.0 and this time she shared with me! I slept for about three days straight! Fortunately, I’ve perked up just in time for Christmas. I waited to post until after the holiday because it’s not a very happy chapter. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas!
Elizabeth spent the following day after church, considering how she could court her husband. The next morning, Elizabeth dragged herself out of bed before her husband. Since their wedding, he had often arranged for her to have a tray in bed. Today, she decided to reciprocate.
They decided to eat together in their sitting room—which they had yet to use. When the meal was over, Elizabeth suggested that they spend the morning together. They read for about an hour and discussed various things. Next, they attended to their correspondence. Mrs. Gardiner had written to Elizabeth inquiring how things progressed with her marriage as well as how the Bennets adjusted to Netherfield and their impending new residence.
Deciding she needed a married confidant, Elizabeth related to her aunt Darcy’s confession of love and her own difficulty in reciprocating. She dearly hoped the woman would have some sensible advice. Elizabeth felt she was running out of ideas. Most of what she knew of courtship was that the woman instantly had feelings, and the man encouraged them with gifts and by paying particular attention to her. After the marriage, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that they loved one another, and from public appearances, romance disappeared. How did love stay alive in such a state, then?
They had now spent the morning together, and Elizabeth felt no uncommon pull to his side. They sat at separate desks, and she was perfectly content on her own. Now and then, she would hear a pause in Darcy’s writing. Looking up from her own, she never saw him gazing at her in wonder as though he could not focus on his task. Instead, his brow was furrowed as his hand paused at the inkwell lest he blot the paper. She could see it took all of his concentration. She may as well be on the moon. All the more proof that she was not in love with him, she did not care one jot if he did not notice her as he worked. If she truly loved him, would she not be jealous of his attention and time? Even Caroline Bingley had attempted to draw Darcy’s attention from letter writing.
Eventually, Darcy set his business aside. Having finished with her own letters, Elizabeth had taken up a book. Glancing at Darcy, she saw him roll his shoulders as though stiff from leaning over the desk not made for his larger frame. Reminding herself of her intention to try and love him, she went to his side. There, she began to rub the tense muscles of his back and shoulders.
“That feels wonderful,” Darcy sighed.
“If you removed your coat, it would have a greater effect.”
Obediently, Darcy removed the thick and unrelenting fabric, letting a moan drop from his lips as she squeezed the back of his neck.
“You have been sitting for too long.”
“Indeed, I have.” He pulled her hand from his shoulder and tugged her around to face him. Lifting her hand to his lips, he smiled. “Thank you. I needed that. However, you did not need to spend all of the morning with me.”
Elizabeth blushed. “I do not have much else to do. It is not as though there are any duties for me here. Mama is well-attended. And…and…” she stammered. “I had wanted to have a taste of what life may be like when we leave Netherfield. I enjoyed this time with you.”
Darcy’s eyes searched hers, his smile slipping. “What would you like to do now?”
“Perhaps we could go for a walk? Or would you prefer to ride? I am not much of a horsewoman, but maybe you could provide me with assistance.”
He raised a brow. “I recall you walking here when Jane was ill. Surely if you cared to ride at all, you would have. What do you mean by ‘not much of a horsewoman?’ When was the last time you rode?”
Elizabeth looked away and coloured. “I might have been seven or eight.”
“Seven or eight! It is a good thing I asked rather than take you at your word. And if I had asked you to race me or jump over a fence, would you do that as well?”
Elizabeth chewed her bottom lip. She was trying to please him. It sounded insane when he put it to her like that. However, in the moment, she probably would have followed whatever he suggested. She attempted to make light of it and shrugged. “I might have. I do not suppose it is challenging to do since so many accomplish it.”
“Elizabeth, most likely, you would have hurt yourself or the horse or both. A horse, I can replace. But you?” Darcy shook his head, his eyes growing dark. He clutched her to him. “Promise me you will consider your safety before any more of these suggestions. When we are at Pemberley, I can teach you to ride properly if you wish it. Simply attempting to be a good rider to please me is a sure recipe for disaster.”
He appeared haunted by the thought, and Elizabeth knew. She knew that all her pretending did not, could not, make what was not present a reality. The only person she had loved so dearly that the mere thought of losing them in a hypothetical situation was her father. The sorrow she felt at his death was such that she did not think her heart could recover. That was what Darcy felt for her? How could she ever match that? She did not believe the organ now beating fast in her chest could do that. There simply was no space for another—or perhaps it would not love again after her father’s passing. That is what happened to everyone, after all. Immortality did not exist on this Earth. Love brought only heartache—even when it was unintended, such as now when Elizabeth nearly broke her husband’s heart with the mere thought of riding a horse.
They chose to take a leisurely walk around the garden. Elizabeth did not offer much in the way of conversation, her mind too full of the earlier fiasco. She had never shirked from facing her fears before, once she bothered to name them, and so she bravely faced the ones before her. She quickly saw that her heart was timid and shy at the prospect of romantic love. If the loss of a parent could shatter her, then what would happen if she loved a man?
Besides acknowledging her fear of love, was the unconquerable belief that she simply could not love. She was broken in some way. Elizabeth was not so simple as to only believe in love at first sight. She even thought you could overcome past prejudices and fall in love. It sounded as though that is precisely what happened with Darcy. He had not set out to admire her. However, Elizabeth could see all the reasons why she should love Darcy, and yet, she could not.
Fear, Elizabeth could face. She supposed that the benefit of having loved at all would outweigh the potentially high cost of loss. After all, many people choose it, some even do so many times in their life. However, if she were faulty and defective in some way—well, what could she do to change that?
Darcy attempted to draw her from her preoccupation. Knowing that now was not the best time for private thoughts, she refocused her energies on her husband. She took his arm and squeezed it to her, as she knew he liked. Now and then, she glanced at him, smiling when his eyes met hers. However, the more she attempted to encourage him, the more he seemed to withdraw. Where she had quickly earned smiles and even laughter before, today he did not bestow any full grins. No chuckle passed his lips. Neither were there moments of sweet quiet. Rather than prolong the torture, they chose to return to the house. Darcy mumbled something about needing to speak with Bingley in the library. Elizabeth watched him go with regret. Was he tiring of her already?
“I am surprised to see you without your shadow,” Bingley said when Darcy entered the billiards room the next day. He handed him a cue.
Darcy chuckled in answer. “Elizabeth’s friend has called.” He took his turn and then watched Bingley.
“Ah, yes.” Bingley nodded. “Miss Lucas. I believe Jane is with them, as well.”
“You really should not call her by her Christian name until you make it official.”
“I have decided I shall on Christmas Day.”
“Indeed? I thought you were waiting until her half-mourning was over.”
“Do you disapprove?”
“Not at all. This will allow Elizabeth time to share in her sister’s joy before we leave for London.”
Bingley paused before striking a ball. He aimed, then it went in a different direction than he intended. Cursing under his breath, he leaned against the wall and watched his friend analyse the table. “Are you certain she is willing and able to go with you?”
Darcy’s cue slipped from his hand and ripped at the fine felt of the table. “Blast! I apologise Bingley. I will pay for its repair.”
“Think nothing of it. I know I have scratched my fair share at Pemberley.” He put his cue up and then took Darcy’s as well. “I suppose that is it for our game. Well, what to do with the ladies occupied? We could ride. However, I think it is too late in the day to shoot. Or do you wish to remain indoors so Mrs. Darcy may find you as soon as Miss Lucas leaves?”
Darcy rubbed the back of his neck and felt heat creeping up his face. As a bachelor, he had been hounded by women—Bingley’s sister as an example. It was not such a trial with Elizabeth. Indeed, he would enjoy her constant company if she were doing it out of genuine affection.
He had scratched the pool table at Bingley’s earlier question about Elizabeth’s readiness to go to London because he had hoped to avoid thinking on the subject. Wishing as he did for Elizabeth’s happiness, it became increasingly evident that he might have to leave her behind. She would not be ready to join him in London. He could postpone her taking on duties of Darcy House and Pemberley and have the housekeepers continue to run the homes. However, it would be pointless for her to be in Town and away from the comforts of her family if she could not handle* socializing. Even worst, she would not be able to bear the constant scrutiny she would receive.
“You do not have to go,” Bingley said, interrupting the quiet that had descended between them.
Darcy knew his friend referenced the direction of his own thoughts. Should he leave Elizabeth in Hertfordshire and go to London alone? Or should he remain at her side? If she gave even the slightest hint that she wanted him with her instead of relying on him to help her family or feeling an obligation to love him, then he would not hesitate to send his regrets to Camden and clear his schedule for as long as she required. Instead, it seemed increasingly likely that all she needed was time and space from him.
Darcy excused himself from Bingley’s company. He sought out the privacy of his own chamber to think about his future with Elizabeth. What would happen if she did not journey with him for this dinner? Would they develop separate lives? It was not unheard of in his circle. Would she eventually feel ready to join him? Even if she did, he doubted it would be as a woman in love. She would merely be his wife out of obligation.
What Darcy desired, nay what he needed, was for Elizabeth to love him of her own free will. He considered the fact that they had no courtship, and he was not naturally gifted with all social graces. However, he had always seen flattery, poetry, and gifts as vain attempts at buying love. Elizabeth should see him for who he was—faults and all. She should not be blinded by a beautiful bouquet or fine jewellery. Nor did he think giving them as a display of how great and deep his affection was would help matters. She did not appear to doubt his love, and again, he did not wish to have hers out of obligation. What then could he do to encourage her? Was he so unlovable?