Weddings are a tiring business. So thought Elizabeth as the carriage conveying her and her husband slowed to a halt in front of Darcy House. Although her eyes stung with exhaustion and her body ached for rest, the anticipation of arriving as Mrs. Darcy to Darcy House had kept her in a state of nervous excitement throughout the journey from Longbourn to London.
“Here we are,” said Mr. Darcy, her husband. He squeezed her one hand in his two.
The carriage slowed to a halt and, to her disbelief, Elizabeth pinched her cheeks as her mother always instructed, hoping to bring some life to her pallid complexion. A footman opened the door of the carriage. Mr. Darcy stepped gracefully from it and then turned, smiled to her, and offered his hand.
Her slipper touched the cobblestone and she looked up to see Travers, the butler, standing in the doorway of Darcy House, which she would now, as a Darcy herself, call home.
Travers bowed. “Welcome home, Mr. Darcy. Mrs. Darcy.”
Darcy only nodded, but Elizabeth could feel his chest swell with pride. Bowing her head, Elizabeth concealed her own smile of satisfaction. Her husband led her up the steps and into the house, where the staff of the Darcy House lined both sides of the grand hall. There was with Mr. Travers, the butler, Mrs. Smyth, the housekeeper, Mrs. James, the cook, the footmen, and the scullery maids, several of whom could be no older than Lydia. All stood with upright postures and the expressionless faces that belied their fine training. Even the maids seemed more composed than herself. They looked at the new Mrs. Darcy, but did not stare. Surely, she was not that unimpressive! Surely, she should inspire some awe in the servants!
She straightened her spine, but continued to gaze around at the Darcy House servants with a look of openness and ease, even if the emotions behind her expression came less readily.
“Mrs. Darcy, may I present to you the staff of Darcy House?” said Mr. Darcy. “In my life, I have never known them to do less than their utmost to ensure the comfort and happiness of every Darcy. If there is anyway that they can be of service to you, you will let them know at once.”
“Thank you,” replied Elizabeth though she nodded to the servants. “I very much look forward to knowing you all.”
They offered small bows and curtsies in return. How different it was, how formal the interaction between Darcy and his staff when compared to the manner in which Elizabeth’s own family interacted with its servants. Hill and Cook and the footmen and maids had been exposed to all of the Bennets’ careless manners and foibles.
“You have met Mrs. Smyth once before,” continued Darcy, alluding to her previous visit to Darcy House nearly a month ago.
“Mrs. Darcy,” said the older woman with a curtsey. As Elizabeth nodded in return, she continued “Mrs. Darcy, following your requests on your prior visit, I have taken the liberty of securing a lady’s maid for you. Mademoiselle Dupuis.”
A plump but pretty woman around Mrs. Gardiner’s age stepped forward and curtsied before her new mistress.
“I will send her to unpack your belongings immediately. I hope she will meet every satisfaction,” said Mrs. Smyth.
“If you have selected her, Mrs. Smyth, I am sure she will more than satisfy. Besides,” said Elizabeth, then turning to Dupuis, “my four sisters and I shared one maid between us. Having one to myself will be a luxury indeed.”
Several of the maids glanced at each other, but the expressions of everyone else, including Mademoiselle Dupuis, remained solid. The woman nodded in acknowledgment of the comment.
“I will show Mrs. Darcy to her rooms now. I am sure she is fatigued from the journey,” Darcy said to the housekeeper. He looked down to Elizabeth for confirmation. She nodded. With that, the ceremony came to a close and the servants disbanded.
Still arm in arm, Mr. Darcy led Elizabeth up the grand staircase. His fingers made small circles over the back of her hand and, once out of view of the servants, he broke into a smile that brightened his serious features. Placing a kiss on her forehead, he asked, “Is there anything that I can do, dearest, to see to your comfort?”
Elizabeth gazed up at her new husband and smiled. From what she knew of his character, his solicitousness did not surprise her, yet it warmed Elizabeth’s heart nonetheless. “I am most comfortable,” she replied. “And happy.”
Charmingly, Mr. Darcy blushed. They continued down the hall towards their chambers. On the way, Darcy turned to Elizabeth and added, “Mrs. Travers tells me that Dupuis worked for a Parisian Countess. She came with brilliant recommendations from her last employer.”
“Smyth went through nearly a dozen girls just to find her.”
Elizabeth laughed. “I had not expected you to hold such a strong interest in my lady’s maid.”
Darcy laughed, too. “As I have said before, you are a woman worthy of being pleased, and I have committed my life to doing so every day. Starting with your maid.”
“Be sure not to give me more than my due, Mr. Darcy, else you turn me into a very spoiled and disagreeable wife,” teased Elizabeth.
They reached the door to Elizabeth’s chambers.
“While it might be possible to spoil you, I imagine it would be most impossible to make you disagreeable,” Darcy replied. “Mrs. Darcy, after you.” He opened the door and allowed Elizabeth to pass through the threshold.
Elizabeth’s smile deepened to match that of her husband’s. The room was in every way she remembered it, only lovelier. It was not merely a fine room with expensive furnishings and drapery and paper. Elizabeth had seen many fine rooms in her life. But this room both enveloped her with a sense of warmth and cheer, while also enveloping her in the privacy of a shared secret with her husband. She entered and breathed deeply. A warm fire crackled in the fireplace.
“I had the paper changed,” said Darcy
Elizabeth inspected the buttery yellow pattern. “I do not remember needing it changed.”
Glancing around, Elizabeth smiled. “Thank you. It is a very happy room.”
“I do hope so,” Darcy said. His voice dropped to a mere whisper.
Elizabeth realized then that she did not merely stand in her private chambers. She stood in her bedroom in the master suite in their private chambers, with her husband by her side. In that instant, everything in the room – the yellow walls, the paintings of spring landscapes and succulent pieces of fruit, the vase of white roses on a chest of drawers – faded into obscurity, and the only thing Elizabeth could concentrate on was the large, silk canopied bed in the middle of the room. Her heart quickened.
“And your chambers, I assume, are through there?” Elizabeth asked, nodding to a door at the far end of the room.
Glancing from her husband to the door, she moved to the opposite end of the room and inspected the doorknob.
“I notice, Mr. Darcy, that this door lacks a lock.”
“It does. After our conversation, it was another alteration that I took the liberty of making. I told you that I wish there to be no secrets between us. You are always welcome to come to me, and I can only hope that will you extend towards me the same regard.”
Elizabeth opened the door and waited for Darcy to follow. His room was also elegant and comfortable, outfitted with rich furnishings, but dark. She inspected the room in a way that Miss Elizabeth Bennet never could, running her fingers along a walnut table and the heavy brocade curtains. She eyed a painting on the wall – a hunting scene featuring foxes and hounds. Elizabeth’s body grew warm from both the intimacy of inspecting a man’s chamber and from the gaze that she felt on her back. Swallowing, she turned to face her husband.
“The room perfectly represents the respectability and taste of its inhabitant,” she said.
Darcy nodded once. She stared at him, standing upright, if not rather stiffly, in the center of the room. The look on his face was searching and calm and all the more mysterious. Elizabeth felt her insides rolling and trembling. If only he would say something!
But she knew enough of him by now to know that he revealed close to nothing at his most passionate.
“I believe I shall refresh myself. I find the road has tired me a great deal,” murmured Elizabeth.
Darcy bowed his head. “I will send for your maid.”
As Elizabeth floated past him, Darcy reached out for her hand. “Elizabeth?”
He brought her knuckles to his lips and then opened her palm and touched his mouth to the soft flesh there. Lowering her hand, he whispered, “At what time should we dine?”
Elizabeth swallowed again. “I can ready myself in one hour. Shall that be sufficient?”
“More than.” He kissed her knuckles again. “Madam.”
“Sir,” she murmured, before leaving the room, her heartbeat rushing through her ears.
The day had been a long one. It had begun a little after sunrise after a fitful night of sleep with Elizabeth and Jane’s preparations for their wedding. Five women in the Bennet household requiring their hair curled and pinned, their gowns pressed and buttoned was itself a task, but considering that two of the women were brides that day, no effort could be spared! Mrs. Bennet had been in an uproar over the preparations for the wedding breakfast and Mr. Bennet was, not unexpectedly, absent.
Thus, between the excitement of her wedding day and the long journey to London, throughout her toilette for dinner, Elizabeth felt herself grow increasingly tired. Elizabeth’s heart had at last calmed and with it so did her defenses agaist the exhaustion she felt. Dupuis attended to her hair with a deft yet gentle hand. Elizabeth stifled small yawns throughout her maid’s ministrations.
She observed Dupuis’ dexterous hands twist and pin her hair into something Elizabeth had seen in the latest fashion plates, stick in a comb studded with pearls and emeralds – a surprise gift from her new husband – and adorn her in a gown of shimmering olive silk with lace so fine it made her scared to breathe lest she tear it and suffer a bout of scolding from her mother, who now lived half-a-day’s journey away, thank goodness, rather than down the hall. The material had been selected at Jane’s recommendation and Elizabeth had doubted her sister then. But, seeing herself now, she thought the color quite becoming. The shade of green made Elizabeth’s eyes glow beneath her naturally dark lashes.
“Zere you are, Madame Darcy,” Dupuis said with her light French accent. “Quite lovely, if I can say.”
Elizabeth looked past the halo of curls framing her face to Dupuis’ reflection in the mirror. “Thank you, Dupuis. Yes, I quite agree the style is most becoming.”
“Shall you require anysing else, Madame?”
Elizabeth smiled. “No, thank you. I shall see you before I retire.”
With a proper curtsey, Dupuis quit the room. Elizabeth stood, exhaled, and ran her gloved hands down the bodice of her dress.
Though never one to succumb to vanity, Elizabeth could not help but stare at herself. “Madame Darcy,” she whispered, turning her chin this way and that, admiring how her pearl and emerald earrings caught the light from a nearby candle and danced like the surface of a pond in summer. A year ago, could she have ever imagined herself here? A year ago, she had sat before a smaller mirror before the Netherfield Ball, weaving a cream ribbon through a much plainer hairstyle, and thinking herself very fine-looking indeed. The efforts had been for another man, one of far less worth than the one she now awaited. Elizabeth could not help thinking how very right everything had turned out.
Behind her sprawled the canopy bed. She turned to inspect it, her stomach churning suddenly. She anticipated being Mr. Darcy’s wife in every possible way and, yet, inevitably, she could not repress her anxiety about that which she did not know.
A knock at the interior door interrupted her thoughts. Straightening, Elizabeth inspected herself one last time in the mirror before bidding Mr. Darcy to enter.
The door swung open smoothly (not like, Elizabeth noted, the creaky hinges of her room at Longbourn) and her husband appeared, looking regal and handsome in a navy jacket and waistcoat. Though more plainly attired than he had been one year ago at the Netherfield Ball, Darcy appeared finer this evening. Perhaps prejudice still continued to color Elizabeth’s opinions, but she knew the change went past his fine clothes to the contentment now warming his features. He scanned Elizabeth in a way that sent a fiery blush over her.
Elizabeth opened her mouth to say something impertinent, but stopped herself. She could only follow Darcy’s lead and remain silent. After all, how many times would this happen again? When would there ever be another first evening as husband and wife? When would they ever again stand silent in a room, in awe that each now possessed the other?
“You look very lovely,” her husband finally managed to say.
“Thank you.” She could barely meet his eyes. She felt as nervous and awkward as the day he proposed.
“Come, Elizabeth,” he teased, walking to her, “I fell in love with you for your liveliness of spirit. Was that all a ruse, soon to cease on our first night of marriage?”
“You tease.” But, she laughed.
“I apologize. In truth, you look very beautiful. More than I could have hoped to expect.”
Arching an eyebrow, Elizabeth replied, “And should I be offended?”
“I beg your…no! I…no, I meant it not at all in that…” His stammering was cut off by Elizabeth’s unrestrained laughter. She touched a gloved hand to his cheek and gazed up at him affectionately.
“Thank you. You also look very fine.”
His hand wrapped around the one caressing his cheek. Pulling his wife close to him, Darcy lowered his lips to her forehead, to the tip of her nose, and then to her lips. The kiss deepened until they pulled away from each other, flustered and very much wanting to renege on their dinner arrangements.
“James would be savagely disappointed,” Darcy reasoned, smoothing his waistcoat.
“Let’s not disappoint her then,” babbled Elizabeth, her eyes wild and her cheeks flushed.
“Shall we, then?” Striding to her door, Darcy opened it and very properly offered his arm. Entwining her hand around it, Elizabeth smiled as she noticed the similar discomposure on her husband’s face. He caught her eye and they shared a secret, sympathetic smile before he stepped into the hall and escorted her downstairs.
It was a lavish and well-prepared meal, but Elizabeth could scarcely eat a bite. Combined with their diversion beforehand, the expectation of what would come after, and the footman standing stiffly in the corner, the atmosphere in the room hung heavy with awkwardness. What kind of conversation could be expected? This would very well be the most significant night of their acquaintance thus far, and one of the defining rites of passage in Elizabeth’s life.
She had seen nothing more than a man’s neck and hands since the age of fourteen. And while Jane and she often curled up together at night in the winter months, Elizabeth had never in her life shared a bed with a member of the opposite sex. From their frank and honest discussions, she knew Darcy desired a relationship where they were no strangers to each other’s bedchambers, but did that mean he would see her the very moment she awoke, with her hair in disarray and in a most immodest state of undress?
Elizabeth took a long sip of wine at the thought.
Reaching for her hand, Darcy asked, “Is all well?”
“So, what is your answer then?”
She realized with some embarrassment that she had not been completely attending to her husband’s conversation. Apologizing, Elizabeth admitted as much.
Darcy raised his eyebrows in amusement. “May I inquire what so occupied your thoughts?”
Elizabeth took another sip of wine and said, “I’m sorry. You may not inquire.”
But, he understood. She noticed the color of his eyes deepen and his gaze dip to her mouth. And when he looked back up, a rakish look gleamed in his eyes, one that was congratulatory that he, Fitzwilliam Darcy, could stimulate the kind of arousal in his impertinent, headstrong wife that made her flutter and tremble so throughout dinner.
After dinner, they moved to the drawing room, where Elizabeth served tea. Now in a less formal setting than the dining room, both were able to make themselves more comfortable. Darcy read to his wife from a volume of poetry by a Lord Byron, newly published and already much spoken-of amongst London’s literary circles.
Elizabeth, at first, listened raptly at these scenes of exotic lands in the Mediterranean. Her husband read well, his voice maintaining a level baritone. Then, the warmth of the fire, the cadence of her husband’s reading, and the exhaustion of the day lulled Elizabeth into an almost trance-like state. Relaxing into her chaise, she closed her eyes, cast her head back, and envisioned the ruins of Greece as the poet described them.
Suddenly, Darcy stopped reading mid-stanza and closed the tome. Opening her eyes, Elizabeth frowned like one not yet understanding that she had awoken from a dream.
“Why did you stop?” she asked.
“I find it altogether too distracting to watch you in that attitude,” he said with that particular catch in his eye. A blush crawled up her chest and neck. “Mrs. Darcy, it is time for bed.”
Elizabeth accepted his hand and allowed him to draw her next to him. She felt his gentleness and his power in the gesture, the heat of his body, and her stomach wobbled. In silence, Darcy escorted her through the halls, up the grand marble staircase, and to the door of her chambers. Elizabeth, although she had not drank much wine with her meal, felt the same heady feeling of drunkenness.
“Shall a half-hour be sufficient?” Darcy asked.
She nodded. “I believe it shall.”
“Until then.” He squeezed her hand before releasing it and turned down the hall towards his rooms. Gingerly, Elizabeth opened her door and disappeared into her chambers.
Elizabeth gasped in surprise to see she was not alone. “Dupuis!”
Her lady’s maid curtsied. “My apologies, Madame.”
“I have not yet even rung for you…” Elizabeth said with some confusion.
Dupuis smiled and bowed her head a little. It would take some time before Elizabeth became accustomed to the intuition of the servants at Darcy House and, she imagined, at Pemberley. At Longbourn, the servants always knew the family’s whereabouts, not by any diligence on their part, but by the sheer noise made by six vivacious women (if one counted Mrs. Bennet) living under the same roof.
“Madame, I have chosen zis gown for you tonight. I believe it will do quite well, n’est pas?” Dupuis held the silk and lace night dress purchased for her by her Aunt Gardiner. Appropriate that Dupuis had suggested that one, as it had come from her native land of France and, by Elizabeth’s estimation, was very risque in its sheerness and lack of fabric.
“That will do,” Elizabeth replied, attempting indifference. Elizabeth sat at her vanity, as Dupuis removed the pins that bound her hair. She allowed Dupuis to help her out of her gown and stays. She slipped on the silken material and admired the embroidery at the neckline – tiny white flowers that dropped down to reveal the peaks of her bosom. She shivered.
Dupuis left with as much discretion with which she had come. Elizabeth smoothed out the creases in her hair left by Dupuis’ deft pinning. Should she plait her hair? Or, did that appear too girlish? Elizabeth ran her fingers through the ends and placed the bulk of her curls across one shoulder, leaving the other exposed. Yes, somehow that seemed very appropriate, very much as a wife should appear to her husband.
Her heartbeat rolled unevenly through her. What would he say when he first beheld her? Pacing to the canopy bed, Elizabeth tested out its weight. Very soft and not a lump or sag in it. Perhaps she should await Darcy in a reclining pose, like the Greek goddesses she had observed in Renaissance paintings. Elizabeth attempted such a posture and found it very silly. She yawned. Anticipation and nerves were making this the longest half-hour of Elizabeth’s memory. Resting her head on her arm, she closed her eyes and wondered what her husband was doing beyond their connecting door. Was he, too, just as nervous? And what about Jane? Was Jane feeling a similar feeling of excitement and distress at being so intimate with her new husband?
Her breathing growing slow and even, Elizabeth waited.
She awoke in the dark. One side of her body felt chilled, while the other felt warm and protected. In her hazy half-slumber, Elizabeth first believed herself back in her bedroom at Longbourn with Jane curled next to her. Then, she blinked. Her bed in Longbourn did not have a canopy. And the windows faced west so that the waxing moon brightened the room after a certain time of night. This room, however, was completely black. And Jane’s arm never felt as heavy as this one. Her body was not this long or large. Her breathing did not resonate as deeply along Elizabeth’s body.
Then, Elizabeth gasped and shot up. The person next to her—Mr. Darcy! Her husband!—groaned.
“Elizabeth?” he mumbled.
“Oh no!” she cried. “Oh no. Oh, I am a fool!”
In her panic, she forgot completely of modesty – that she was in a state of half-undress with a man mere inches from her. She remembered that, when she had last been conscious, she had been awaiting her husband. It should have been their wedding night.
Covering her face in her hands, Elizabeth moaned. “What time is it? How long have I been… ? You must detest me! Oh, why did you not wake me?”
Darcy sat up in the bed. She heard the strike of a match as he lit the candles next to her bed. Despite her distress, she started when she saw him. He hardly looked himself! He wore no cravat, his hair was mussed, and his chin and jaw were shadowed with stubble. And his neck! His collar bone peeped from the gap in his nightshirt. And below that—his chest! Was this truly Darcy? Elizabeth knew it was impolite to stare, but she could not look away.
“I did not wake you because you evidently needed sleep,” he said. Elizabeth could not reply, and nor could Darcy. He inhaled and she saw him look at her.
His eyes traced the same path across her body as she had with his. They started on her neck and lowered to stare at the expanse of soft flesh at her chest. The rakish expression from earlier in the evening had been replaced with one far softer and filled with wonder. His inspection made her feel more exposed than she had ever felt. Without his cravat, she saw him swallow.
“You are even more lovely when you are awake,” he said. A smile formed over his mouth. He looked upwards and met her eyes at last.
Though feeling wretched inside, Elizabeth tried to make light of the situation. “It is quite unjust that you should have had the opportunity to stare at me without restraint while I slept, but that I must practice moderation towards you!”
He laughed. “The marriage bed is no place for moderation.”
Elizabeth looked shocked. Her husband drew nearer to her on the bed.
Still filled with remorse, Elizabeth could scarcely meet her husband’s gaze. She had taken every care to make their wedding night special. She had begged Mrs. Gardiner to inform her of the duties of the marriage bed, had suffered the indignity of speaking even to her mother and Lydia on the subject. Her lady’s maid had taken utmost care with Elizabeth’s toilette. There had been jewels and fine lace! Both she and her husband had anticipated this day for endless weeks and then…Oh, it was too shameful! With a deep blush spreading over her face, Elizabeth said, “Neither should it be a place where a wife falls asleep on her wedding night. How you must resent me.”
“Resent you? Impossible.”
“Still, I am sorry,” she whispered. “You should have awoken me. It was our wedding night.”
Darcy laughed and winded his arm around her waist. He placed a kiss in the center of her eyebrows, followed by one on her frowning mouth, followed by another under her earlobe. Then, he whispered, “It still is.”
And when all had reached its satisfactory conclusion, Elizabeth sighed into her husband, thankful that the night had been everything both she and Darcy anticipated. Together, they fell asleep.