I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and a happy New Year! I spent the week of Christmas traveling and visiting family and friends. Unfortunately, I also had a terrible cold which also reared up after we returned home. Thankfully, though, no one else has gotten it and I’m finally feeling more than 50% better. It was a trial to travel under such conditions, but I was grateful to spend time with loved ones. I made sure to rest a lot and everyone was very understanding of my limitations. I just wish I could have enjoyed it all a bit more. I’m sure in the future I’ll forget about how much my throat hurt and just remember the good times.
Isn’t that the message of New Year, after all? A time to let go of the bad and remember the good. I love that about New Year! A fresh start!
Speaking of fresh starts, Elizabeth and Darcy definitely need one. Will they get it?
WARNING: This chapter is sad and a bit angsty. We are getting closer to the big climax, though so this won’t stretch out for long. I will try to post a few times a week until the story is finished.
Christmas Day came and brought an unusual amount of trepidation for Darcy. Georgiana had assured him that she would tolerate the holiday with the Fitzwilliams and that he should enjoy the time with his new wife and support her family. In two days, the Bennets would leave Netherfield and move into the house he had purchased for them. Then, his duty to them would be over, and perhaps any shred of admiration on Elizabeth’s side would evaporate as well.
After breakfast, everyone gathered in the drawing room. In a rare show, Mrs. Bennet even joined them. She looked frailer than Darcy had ever seen her before. Her body seemed just as robust, and except for some signs of tiredness, she did not look unwell. However, there was something about the look in her eyes and her mannerisms that seemed so delicate. It reminded him, a bit, of Elizabeth. Both women had deeply mourned Mr. Bennet.
They took turns passing out gifts. Elizabeth had done chosen nearly all the presents from them both of them, except for the gentlemen. Darcy chose cigars for Mr. Hurst and a new hat for Bingley as he was always losing his.
At last, Elizabeth held out a small box toward Darcy.
“I hope you like it. You are exceedingly hard to shop for,” she said, then chewed her lower lip as if doubting her gift.
Darcy slowly untied the ribbons and then opened the package. Rifling through packing paper, finally, he found a small miniature, already framed. A smile came on his face, and his eyes shined. He met Elizabeth’s gaze. “This is exactly what I wanted. How did you know?”
“Papa did not often travel, but he never went anywhere without a miniature of each of us.”
The overflow of love Darcy felt at the sight of his beautiful Elizabeth captured for his eyes froze at her words.
“Oh, it is newly done,” Elizabeth hastened to explain. “I wrote to Charlotte asking her to make a new one. She just finished in time yesterday.”
Feigning, exuberance, Darcy forced a grin to his face and squeezed his wife’s hand in thanks. Inside, however, his heartbeat slow, and ice filled his veins. She had not perceived he wanted such a present. She was continuing to guess at how to be a loving spouse by copying storybooks and the examples of others.
“It seems we thought along the same lines.” Darcy thrust his gift to Elizabeth’s waiting hands, desiring to finish the whole process as fast as possible.
Quirking a brow, Elizabeth tore open her package. “William,” she murmured as her eyes landed on her father’s watch that Darcy had repaired. “I will treasure this.”
“I believe your father would want that.” Darcy nodded.
She cradled it in her hand and then leant over to show it to those nearest her. Next, she went around the room and made everyone look at it. Around him, everyone beamed at him, as though he had made the best choice in a sentimental gift for her. Did any of them see the truth that their marriage was just a sham?
A shout of joy erupted from Jane, and Darcy turned his head to see Bingley down on one knee. Clapping and merriment were exchanged. Elizabeth fiercely hugged her sister while Mrs. Bennet cried happy tears. While the others called for spirits and talked animatedly about the future plans, Darcy watched as Jane gazed at Bingley with all the love that he had hoped to see from Elizabeth. Unbidden, his eyes found her. She wore an expression of longing as she also watched her sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law. She glanced away and found Darcy looking at her. Elizabeth flinched, and her face grew ashen with terror.
He could bear it no more. Excusing himself from the room, Darcy returned to his chamber and called for his valet.
“Jones, I will leave for London after the Bennets move.”
“You had planned to leave a few days later. Do you now wish to leave earlier?”
“Yes.” Darcy tore at his cravat. Had he been unclear in some way?
“I see,” Jones replied as he motioned for Darcy to lower his hands and allow him to work. “And Mrs. Darcy?”
Darcy did not immediately reply. He waited until Jones was finished with his tasks.
“Will that be all, sir?” Jones asked.
“Yes.” The valet moved to the door. Just before he opened it, Darcy called after him. “Mrs. Darcy will not be joining me.”
Elizabeth rolled over in her bed, seeking the now-familiar heat source that was her husband. Instead, her hand found only cold sheets. Cracking an eye open, she could see daylight coming through the curtains.
The day before, her sisters and mother moved out of Netherfield and to a house in Meryton. It was smaller than Longbourn but larger than Mrs. Phillips’ home, and therefore Mrs. Bennet seemed quite pleased with it. Elizabeth had held her breath, expecting some distasteful show from Mr. Collins, but the day went without incident. Indeed, they had some assistance from their long-time friends and neighbours. Between all the staff and men involved, there was little for the women to do but tell them where to put things. After everything was moved in and rearranged two or three times, they ended with a merry little party of tea, cakes, and music—but no dancing. Even still, by the time Darcy and Elizabeth returned to Netherfield, they were exhausted. He had held her close for much of the night, but nothing more happened. In fact, he had not touched her in that way since Christmas Eve. Elizabeth fell asleep to the feeling of Darcy’s lips against her forehead.
Now, the sun was up, and her husband had already started his day. They had taken to rising together, so Elizabeth supposed she awoke late. Her eyes sought out the clock, but it was too far away to see. Turning to the table on her side of the bed, she found the watch Darcy had given her. It was barely after dawn.
Why would Darcy have needed to begin his day so early? Elizabeth cast over conversations in her mind and did not recall him saying anything on the subject. She had hoped he would wish to call on her family but had never brought up the topic for fear that he would lose his patience with her. At some point, distance must be made between her and them, and it may as well start when the others left Netherfield.
Indeed, the more she had thought about it, the more she desired to begin anew with Darcy. Now that all the pressure over her family’s settlement and the death of her father was behind them, they could really start their married life. She, at last, felt ready to leave most of her mourning behind. She would never forget her father and always miss him, but she could not miss out on life. That was what she realised when Bingley proposed to Jane on Christmas Day. Elizabeth had barely existed for the last several weeks. She had been unable to tell him before. Now, she wanted to seize life by the horns. Perhaps, then she would feel the missing sensations to know she truly loved Darcy.
Deciding to waste no more time in finding her husband and beginning their happily wedded life, Elizabeth swung her legs over the side of the bed. Sliding her feet into slippers and finding her dressing gown, she tied the belt loosely around her waist as she entered the sitting room between her and Darcy’s chambers. Scanning the area, she saw no signs that her husband had eaten or done work there. Continuing on to the door connecting to his room, she knocked. After hearing no noise, she eased it open. He did not spend much time there, but Elizabeth had thought she would have seen more evidence of him. Instead, it looked as though it had been unoccupied. The bed was stripped bare for washing, which she found unusual. Easing toward the dressing room, Elizabeth called out lest she disturb his unsuspecting valet. When there was no answer, she entered. Blood drained from her face when she found bare cupboards.
Mr. Darcy had gone!
And without a word to her! What was she now? An abandoned wife left to have a separate life from him? A pain Elizabeth did not know she could feel ripped through her. She gasped for breath and doubled over against the onslaught. Clutching her stomach and fighting for air, she sunk to the floor. Too late. She realised far, far too late that what she felt for Darcy was more than merely obligation and esteem. She had felt numb after her father’s death. With Darcy’s abandonment, she felt drained of life.
For weeks she had wondered if she had a heart left to give her husband. She thought it shattered when her father died. Now, she knew the truth. She had already fallen in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy. If only it had not taken a broken heart to realise it.