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Although there had not been time to plan a wedding breakfast for the couple, the cook, who had arisen about the time the bishop arrived, had managed to produce a meal for the assembled company to share. Accordingly, the bride and groom, the groom’s father, the bride’s aunt, uncle, and cousins, and the clergyman all made their way to the breakfast room to celebrate.
Elizabeth’s aunt and the children had arrived shortly before the bishop. Gardiner had not felt comfortable leaving them at home and, in his mind, unprotected; Mr. Darcy concurred and sent footmen and his own carriage to the Gardiner house to transport them to Darcy House. The family would stay at the Darcy home for a few days, until other arrangements could be made or until the gentlemen felt sure that the threat from Lord Regis was eliminated. Elizabeth was thrilled to see her entire London family in the Darcys’ parlor when she walked in for the ceremony. Having them in attendance made it all seem so much more real.
During the meal, the gentlemen discussed their next steps. Darcy had already written out an announcement to send to the papers. He had sent a boy out to deliver it as soon as the newspaper offices opened. Hopefully, the evening editions would print it today, and the Morning Post would have it in tomorrow’s edition. In the meantime, he and Gardiner would spread the news to the gentlemen they knew to be in contact with Lord Regis. Their stated hope was that the gentleman would immediately stop his harassment of Elizabeth; their unstated worry was that he would not.
It had been decided immediately upon Elizabeth accepting Fitzwilliam’s hand that the two would marry at Darcy House and, directly after the wedding breakfast, retire upstairs to a suite of rooms, as far away from the crowd of family and visitors as possible, to enjoy a week of honeymooning. In reality, it was a small suite, just a sitting room, bedroom, and dressing room that they would have to share; but they would have the space to themselves and would not need to leave the chambers for any reason unless they chose to. Smith had spent part of a day moving things from Fitzwilliam’s room to this one in preparation for this time. By the end of the honeymoon period, the young couple would decide they liked the suite enough that it became theirs permanently, until the time came for Fitzwilliam to become master.
The reasoning behind the speed of their retirement to this suite of rooms was to make the union official in all ways, thereby reducing any attempts—or even the desire to attempt—to dissolve it. There was not only Lord Regis to think about in this matter. There was also Fitzwilliam’s maternal aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, his mother’s sister, who had claimed the young man for her daughter for years. She would be made unhappy by his marriage, and every effort must be made by the couple and their families to solidify the union in everyone’s mind before that lady could interrupt it. While the marriage could not be annulled because it was unconsummated, Darcy would not put it past his sister to make the attempt.
Debate had raged for several hours on the topic of a honeymoon tour of some sort, but in the end, it was decided that going away from Darcy House increased the risk to Elizabeth. No one knew how Lord Regis would react to the wedding announcement, and none wanted to take the chance of being caught out with less than excellent protection.
Therefore, after eating breakfast, the gentlemen removed themselves to Darcy’s study, while Mrs. Gardiner and Georgiana moved to the music room. This left the new couple alone in the breakfast room, blushes on their faces. “Well, Wife, shall we go upstairs and inspect our new rooms?” Fitzwilliam rose and held out his hand to his wife. Wife, he thought, smiling to himself, how well that sounds!
Lizzy put her hand in his and gracefully rose. The couple slowly left the room and ascended the stairs. Both were consumed with their own thoughts, which were rather similar. Both were nervous about what was to come and embarrassed that others were in the house and would know what they were doing. Both did feel more at ease knowing that they would be doing this as far from their family members as it was possible to be while all remained crowded into one house.
Fitzwilliam’s nervousness quickly eased, however. Those thoughts that had entered his mind while he helped Lizzy dress a couple hours ago rushed back full force, causing a distinct reaction in his person. Concerned that he would frighten Lizzy, he took a few deep breaths and thought about his Aunt Catherine. There. That would keep him on an even keel for a while.
Elizabeth’s thoughts about what was to come were confused. Her aunt had spoken with her a few days prior about what to expect, but there were so many uncertainties. So many details of which she was unsure, that her aunt had left out. Rather than work herself up into a fit of nerves, Lizzy took a few deep breaths and turned to look at her new husband as they entered their suite of rooms. They had promised each other respect, and she knew Fitzwilliam’s character enough to trust he would neither hurt her nor demand things from her that she was unable to give. He would be gentle with her, she knew.
Later that day …
Elizabeth woke a few hours later, head pillowed on Fitzwilliam’s shoulder, knee thrown over his thigh. He was tightly wrapped around her, an arm around her shoulder, the other hand wrapped around her waist. She lay quietly so as not to disturb his rest, and reflected on her experiences this last week.
The day of his proposal, Fitzwilliam and his father invited Lizzy and her London family to Darcy House to dine. The thought of leaving the house so late in the afternoon caused her no small amount of anxiety, an emotion she thought she had hidden well. Fitzwilliam saw it, however, and made every effort to put her at ease. He remained by her side as much as possible, speaking quietly to her in an effort to put her at ease and distract her. His attentiveness was heart-warming, which gave Elizabeth a sense of relief and hope. Perhaps this marriage would indeed turn out well.
For the next week, Fitzwilliam was at the Gardiner house as often as possible. The couple took many long walks in the park near the Gardiner’s home, chaperoned by a maid. They had always enjoyed debating, and during these walks, they continued that pastime. He brought her flowers every day, accompanied by small gifts. Some of these gifts were little things he picked up while out on business with his father. A slim volume of poetry written by Lizzy’s favorite author one day, a dainty carved box to hold hairpins the next, a box of dried plums the day after that. Some days Fitzwilliam brought her gifts of jewels and other items that his mother had left him to give to his wife. No matter the gift, they were always thoughtfully given and greatly appreciated. It was obvious to Lizzy that the gentleman had observed her well and was eager to please her.
The theater trip planned by her aunt and uncle had expanded to include the Darcys, and moved from general seating on the floor to the Darcys’ box seats. Fitzwilliam had told her, as they walked into the theater that night, how proud he was to attend with the most gorgeous lady in London, at least in his opinion, on his arm.
Dressed in a gown of the deepest forest green, Elizabeth was stunning. Her continued apprehension regarding Lord Regis kept her eyes lowered, giving her an appearance of shyness, and Fitzwilliam’s frequent compliments caused her to blush almost constantly, adding color to her otherwise pale complexion.
This night at the theater went a long way to helping Elizabeth recognize that she had feelings for the gentleman she would soon call her husband.
By the time the Gardiners and Darcys arrived at the theater, there was a crush of people spilling out the doors. Fitzwilliam was visibly ill at ease, as he always was in large crowds, but Elizabeth could see that he was determined to push his disquiet aside to help her deal with hers.
His father disembarked the carriage first, with Fitzwilliam following. The latter walked back to the Gardiners’ carriage in time to assist his soon-to-be wife. He wrapped her hand around his arm, and placed his free hand over hers. Speaking quietly to her, he asked, “Well, my sweet, are you ready to face the ton?”
Elizabeth gave him a small smile. “Yes, Fitzwilliam, I am as ready as I will ever be. Surely they cannot be any more frightening than Lord Regis; quite possibly less so.”
Fitzwilliam had laughed, “Indeed you are correct, Elizabeth. Let us go inside, then.”
The two followed the Gardiners and Fitzwilliam’s family into the building. The noise of conversation inside lowered as Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth entered before rising again as the theater-goers tried to figure out who the young lady was who clung to Fitzwilliam Darcy’s arm. The attention was unnerving for the previously impervious Elizabeth, and the hand she had around her betrothed’s arm unconsciously tightened its grip. Fitzwilliam, whose free hand still covered hers, squeezed it a bit before leaning down to whisper to her, “Courage, my dear. Their weapons are words; they are nothing to a lady as witty as you. I and the rest of your family will remain near. These people cannot touch you.”
Elizabeth smiled up at him, whispering, “Thank you, Husband.”
Fitzwilliam gave her a brilliant smile in return, causing a gasp to arise among the many in the crowd who were observing. Mr. Darcy the younger was not known to smile. His reputation amongst the ton was that of a serious, dour gentleman not given to carousing or gossip. That the mystery lady was able to draw a smile out of him was astounding, and many of the young ladies present wished it was they on his arm. Speculation and rumors about Elizabeth’s identity grew wildly, continuing even after the two families had left the lobby and entered their box.
Upon entering the box, the various family members arranged themselves in the chairs. Darcy and Gardiner sat together, with Georgiana and Maddie in front of them. Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam sat to the left of the ladies, beside each other. Fitzwilliam had explained to her that he was determined to be near her at all times this night, for several reasons. For one, he knew she was uneasy; for two, he knew she did not wish to confront Lord Regis, should he be in attendance. In addition to these explanations, Lizzy was aware that he was doing his best to court her.
Soon enough, the play began. Fitzwilliam’s right hand crept over to Elizabeth’s, which was resting on the bench between them. Though she was startled, she gave no indication that she disliked holding his hand. In fact, she turned hers over and their fingers entwined under the edge of her skirt.
Holding her future husband’s hand was very comforting to Elizabeth. She enjoyed it very much, actually. She was happy he had taken the initiative the way he had. She knew it was against propriety to touch in such a manner, especially in public, but she did not care. No one could see them, and she thought it was quite delightful. In fact, it led her to wonder what other liberties Fitzwilliam might attempt to take and how she would feel about it if he did. She had to admit that she wondered what it would be like to kiss him.
She really had little notion of what went on in the marriage bed. Her aunt had spoken to her about it just today, as Lizzy was away from her own mother and was getting married so quickly; however, she had really not spoken of the specifics of the act, only saying that there would be disrobing and touching occurring and to relax and follow her husband’s lead. As a result, Lizzy’s imagination was all that she had to go on. But, thinking about liberties made her blush brightly, and she did not want to spend her entire betrothal, nor even this entire night, blushing, so she decided she had best think of other things.
Too soon the play ended, and they had to revert to strictly proper behavior. Lord Regis had not been in attendance, and while many people had stopped them on the way out of the building, trying to gain an introduction to Elizabeth and some tidbit of gossip to spread, both families left for home pleased with the evening.
All these thoughts ran through Elizabeth’s head on the first day of her marriage, as she lay quietly in her new husband’s arms. She had always been a person who required time alone to contemplate things, so she was taking advantage of this time to examine Fitzwilliam’s actions during their brief courtship. He had shown himself to be a very thoughtful, sensitive gentleman. Elizabeth knew her feelings for him were growing. She was not sure that she loved him, but she certainly cared deeply for him. She knew that her natural ease with people had changed since Lord Regis assaulted her. She was not as easy with others, especially new acquaintances. With Fitzwilliam she felt like she was able to leave that behind, feeling and acting more like herself. For the first time in weeks—months, even—she felt hopeful. Perhaps this marriage and her life would be happy after all.
A couple days later, the couple finally emerged from their rooms. They arrived at breakfast, late, holding hands. The Gardiners and Darcy laughed heartily at the satisfied smile on Fitzwilliam’s face and the downcast eyes and blushing countenance of Elizabeth. Thankfully for the new couple, laugh is all they did. There was too much to discuss to spend much time tormenting them this morning.
Sitting on the table between Elizabeth’s place and Fitzwilliam’s was a folded-up newssheet. Fitzwilliam sat Lizzy down, and then went to the sideboard to make her up a plate. Lizzy picked up the paper and noted the circled item. It was a notice of their marriage, printed in the previous day’s newspaper. “Fitzwilliam, look,” she remarked when he sat down beside her. She handed the paper to her husband, pointing out the notice.
He took the sheet, smiling happily. The world, including Lord Regis, now knew that Elizabeth was his. He was under no misapprehension that the gentleman would quietly turn his attention elsewhere, however. Fitzwilliam was quite sure Regis would not go away quietly.
“Father,” he began, “what are your thoughts about Lord Regis? While I would hope he would simply give Elizabeth up, I do not want to make assumptions. His behavior towards her has been indicative of a gentleman who fully intends possession. I fear our marriage might only slow him down, rather than stop him.”
George Darcy nodded as he swallowed his bite of breakfast. “Indeed, my thoughts were similar. To that end, I have hired a gentleman to follow him. Gardiner and I discussed the matter the morning of your wedding, as we waited for your godfather to arrive, and came to the conclusion that we need to remain aware of Lord Regis’ movements in order to keep Elizabeth safe. The gentleman has become more aggressive—unpredictable, even—since he has returned to town. Your wedding announcement, as you have seen,” he gestured to the paper that was once again lying on the table between Fitzwilliam’s plate and Elizabeth’s, “was in yesterday morning’s Post. I am sure Regis will have seen it by this morning, and his reaction will tell us much. I fully expect a report from the investigator in the next day or two.”
Gardiner spoke up next. “Yes, and once we are aware of his reaction to your marriage, my wife and I will be able to decide our next move, as well. As much as all of us have enjoyed being here at Darcy House, it is not our home. We would like to pick our lives back up. Lizzy, this does not mean we are no longer concerned for you; we are. However, you now have a husband and father-in-law to assure your safety. We do not want to upset you, but we and our children need to resume our lives in a normal fashion.”
He hesitated, trying to read Lizzy’s expression. He did not want to distress her, especially knowing as he did that she had been emotionally fragile for months, but she was no longer his responsibility. He had done his best by her, and her condition was now the purview of her spouse and his father. “Do you understand, my dear?” he asked gently.
Lizzy was quiet for a moment, looking down at her empty plate. “Yes, Uncle,” she responded softly. “I do understand, and I agree that you and Aunt Maddie and the children need to move back to Gracechurch Street. I will be well. Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy will make sure of it.” She gave her uncle a wavering smile. Truly, she did understand.
“I appreciate everything you have done for me, Uncle Edward, Aunt Maddie. I cannot begin to imagine where I would be had you not allowed me to stay with you, and arranged my marriage. Thank you.”
Fitzwilliam reached under the table for her hand, giving it a squeeze. Her Aunt Maddie, who was sitting on Lizzy’s other side, leaned over to squeeze the other one. For the first time in quite a while, she felt her courage rise. She squeezed the hands that held hers and lifted her chin. She knew there may still be danger in her future from her rejected suitor, but she had support from her family, both her new family and the one she had been a part of her entire life. “I will be fine here. I am well-protected and unafraid.”
Bravely, Lizzy smiled at each person around the table. While they knew she did not feel as secure as she let on, they also knew she had made the decision to move on. She would be well, and they were more at ease with their decision to go home.
Soon after, the family members separated, Darcy to his study and his correspondence, Maddie to the nursery to spend time with her children and Georgiana, Gardiner to his warehouse, and the newlyweds upstairs to continue their honeymoon.
The same day, in another part of London…
Harold Watson, Lord Regis, was in a terrible mood. His attempt to remove the lady he wanted from her relatives’ home had not only failed, he was almost caught in the attempt. He had come to his club today, looking for a game of cards and a drink to relieve some of his tension. He continued to be astounded and confounded by that unappreciative chit Elizabeth’s ungratefulness for all he offered her. Who else would want a poor, unconnected country girl? She would be his, sooner rather than later.
As he had arrived at the club too early for a card game, he sat down with a copy of the paper, accepting a glass of port from the servant on duty. Opening the newssheet, he spent some time reading the war reports and other serious news before skimming the society pages and announcements. Suddenly he choked, spewing the mouthful of port he had just swilled all over himself, the table, and the newspaper. He quickly shook the droplets of wine off the paper as the servant tried to sop up the mess. There it was, he thought to himself as he caught sight of the announcement that had so startled him.
In the section for wedding announcements, he read: Fitzwilliam Darcy, son of Mr. George Darcy, Pemberley, Derbyshire and Brook Street, London to Miss Elizabeth Bennet, daughter of Mr. Thomas Bennet, Longbourn, Hertfordshire.
Lord Regis read the announcement again, and then a third time. Each time his eyes passed over the words, his rage grew. No! he thought, she belongs to me! He unexpectedly stood, shoving the hapless footman out of his way as he strode toward the exit. Other members of the club scurried out of his way; they knew by the look on his face that to do otherwise could turn out very badly.
As he reached the sidewalk in front of the club, Regis knew that as much as he wanted to go to Darcy House and resolve the situation, he needed to have a plan in place. To confront George Darcy without one was foolish. However, his rage was such that he was unable to think clearly. He needed to release some energy. He contemplated his options, at first thinking to head to Angelo’s and find someone with whom he could fence. But no, fencing was too refined. He required an extremely physical activity that required more brawn than finesse. Boxing would do, he thought; accordingly, he moved in the direction of his favorite pugilist’s club.
Two hours and four opponents later, Lord Regis was still angry; far too angry to confront the Darcys. What he would like would be to beat Elizabeth into submission, and revenge himself for her betrayal. Since he could not reach Elizabeth at the moment, he looked for a substitute. Elizabeth would get hers, sooner or later. Until then, he would have to make do.
To be continued …