Preparations for the Bingleys’ visit continued. Darcy was impressed with the fact that Elizabeth managed all of the planning without requiring any help from him. He was proud of how quickly she had learned to manage everything that needed to be done.
However, along with her competence, he felt a growing distance from her. Since they were married, he had believed, or at least hoped, that she was warming to him and to the potential for a real relationship with him. Now, however, she seemed to look past him rather than at him. When he spoke to her, she often responded with a polite smile rather than a genuine one. He could not determine the cause of this coldness, but it troubled him greatly.
Darcy considered asking Georgiana if she knew of the reason for Elizabeth’s behavior. Elizabeth and Georgiana were even fonder of one another than he had expected them to be, and that delighted him. However, he sometimes felt a twinge of jealousy that his sister had more of his wife’s confidence than he did. He tried to move past this, as he knew it was foolish and unproductive.
He decided not to ask Georgiana because he did not want to put her in the uncomfortable position of betraying Elizabeth’s confidences. He would continue attempting to get the truth out of Elizabeth. There was certainly no way their relationship could grow if they did not talk to one another.
Darcy was desperate for that growth in their relationship. It was painful for him to even see Elizabeth, he longed for her so much. He imagined her coming to him as a real wife to a real husband, letting him pull her close as he bent to touch his lips to hers, and then—stop, man, you will drive yourself insane if you continue indulging in these dreams.
But it was not so easy to stop. All it took was another glimpse of her and his imagination departed on another flight of fancy where she wanted him even a fraction as much as he wanted her. In order to make that happen, he had to uncover what was causing the disconnection between the two of them and repair it, and the sooner he managed that, the better.
Finally, after what seemed to be forever, it was the day of the Bingleys’ arrival. Elizabeth fussed about, checking minor details and confirming plans that had been in place for weeks. She was relieved that she would soon be reunited with Jane. Since the day of her confrontation with the cook, Elizabeth had not been able to speak honestly with Darcy. He had shown that she was unable to rely on him for help, and she certainly had no intention of being spoken to again like he had on that day.
Even in a manor as big as Pemberley, it is uncomfortable to share space with someone who you are trying to avoid. She knew that Darcy noticed; but if he noticed, was the duty to apologize not his? Elizabeth did not even share her thoughts with Georgiana. She did not want to put Georgiana in the uncomfortable position of being in the midst of the situation. Georgiana would probably feel obligated to defend her brother, so Elizabeth did not even mention it.
Elizabeth was bustling around the foyer, rearranging flowers in an arrangement which was already perfect, when she heard a noise outside. She ran to the front door in time to see the carriage pull up. She threw herself outside and broke into a run towards Jane, who was just descending the carriage.
“My dearest sister!” Elizabeth cried, pulling Jane into a tight embrace. “All of my congratulations on your marriage!” She turned to Bingley. “And congratulations to you, as well, brother!”
Bingley grinned. “Fortunately for me, I received some extremely good advice from a friend.”
“Ah, but you were the one who followed through on it!” said Elizabeth, returning his smile. “Please, come inside. Darcy will be delighted to see you.”
She took Jane’s hand, unwilling to be more than a pace away from the sister that she had so missed, and they walked inside. Bingley was familiar with Pemberley, so the grandeur did not affect him so much, but Jane looked around in awe. Elizabeth remembered the feeling of walking through those doors for the first time. This time, seeing Jane’s reaction, she could not help but feel pride. She was a part of Pemberley now, and it was a part of her.
“Bingley. And Mrs Bingley! Welcome to Pemberley,” called Darcy as he made his way down the staircase. “I trust your journey was uneventful?”
“Entirely uneventful, which means that it was quite boring,” responded Bingley. “We are relieved to be here.”
“Would you like to take a walk?” asked Elizabeth. “We have no plans until dinner, and Jane could see the grounds.”
The Bingleys agreed that a walk would be lovely. Jane took Mr. Bingley’s arm, and he pulled her close to his side as they went outside. It was clear that they were deeply in love.
Seeing the Bingleys’ affection for one another just reminded Elizabeth and Darcy about the lack of affection in their own marriage. Elizabeth chanced a glance at Darcy, but he was just staring off into the distance with a neutral look on his face. Fine, she thought. If he does not care, then neither do I.
Elizabeth worked to ignore Darcy, but the front of indifference did not come as naturally to her as it did to him. Indeed, the fact that he was paying no attention to her pointedly ignoring him just angered her more. She walked faster to catch up with her sister.
“It is so very beautiful here,” Jane said to her. “You must feel so peaceful, Lizzy. I can imagine you out here every day, strolling about and reading a book.”
Elizabeth laughed. “I find that I have much less time for strolling and reading than I used to.”
“I can imagine,” said Jane. “This is quite an estate.”
“Finest I have ever seen,” said Bingley with a smile. “Eh, Darcy? Although I suppose that you are naturally partial.”
“To me it is just home,” said Darcy. “I cannot imagine not having Pemberley to return to. It is a constant.”
“Well, now you have another constant in your life,” said Bingley. “How is married life, Mrs. Darcy? He has not entirely put you off the entire enterprise, has he?”
Elizabeth had to refrain from telling Mr. Bingley how she actually felt. “I learn something new every day,” she said with a smile.
“Interesting,” muttered Darcy. “I feel like I know less with each passing day.”
“Aha, Darcy, I know what you mean! Every day is some glorious new thing to discover!” Bingley said.
Elizabeth knew that was not what Darcy had meant, but it was certainly not the time to discuss their marital issues.
The two couples continued on their walk, one close together and one farther apart than they had ever been.
The tension between Elizabeth and Darcy remained through dinner. From the looks that Jane was giving her, Elizabeth knew that her sister sensed that something was wrong; if Bingley was aware of the tension, he hid it well.
“This dinner is lovely,” said Jane. “And the goose is exceptional.”
And then Darcy remembered. He remembered Elizabeth speaking to him about goose and venison, and he remembered telling her that he had more important things to do than worry about a dinner menu. That was when her silences had begun. That must be what she was upset about!
Darcy looked at her across the table, trying to convey to her his apologies. He never should have been so short with her. He was ashamed to consider how this must have made Elizabeth feel. She was just going to him for advice as he had asked her to do, and he had dismissed her and made her feel small.
Elizabeth was unsure why Darcy was suddenly staring at her so intently. She felt that she was playing her part as well as could be expected. Was there something more that she was not doing, or that she was doing incorrectly? It made her nervous throughout the remainder of dinner, and as soon as Jane and Bingley were settled into their room for the evening, she found Darcy.
“Husband,” she said.
“Wife,” he replied, smiling at her. She tried not to let the smile infuriate her more.
“For what reason were you staring at me during dinner? I wish that you would just tell me what I am doing wrong outright, rather than expecting me to determine what it is on my own.”
Darcy was confused. Where was this idea coming from?
“I apologize,” he said, “if you believed that I was looking at you because I was displeased. It could not be farther from the truth. The person that I am upset with is myself.”
She stared at him pointedly and waited for him to continue.
“I know why you have been so quiet. I know that I was cross with you on the day you came to ask me about what meat to serve.”
She could not let this go unanswered. “At no point did I ask you what meat to serve,” she said, frustration in her voice. “I had intended to ask your opinion on what to do with a disrespectful servant, but you never gave me the opportunity.”
Darcy was instantly alert. “Disrespectful how, exactly?”
She shook her head. “Do not worry yourself about it. I dealt with it, which, I believe, is what you told me to do.”
Darcy was not a foolish man; now that he was aware of the new pieces of the story, he put them together readily. Elizabeth had been having a problem with the cook; she had come to ask Darcy for advice on what to do, and he had insulted her by telling her that he did not have time to help her with something so trivial. So Elizabeth, never one to let a challenge go, had dealt with the situation by herself. Darcy did not think that he could love her any more than he already did, but this example of her fire, of her unwillingness to be cowed, made his feelings toward her even stronger.
“Oh, my dear Elizabeth,” he said, taking her hand. She startled and began to pull her hand away, but then she seemed to change her mind and allowed her hand to stay in his. “I am so very sorry. I should not have spoken to you in that way, regardless of what else was going on. I only wish that you had felt comfortable enough to tell me how you were feeling.”
Elizabeth looked closely at him, trying to determine if he was telling the truth or if he was just trying to assuage her anger. She did not see any dishonesty in his eyes; rather, she saw what looked like contrition.
“I accept your apology,” she said carefully. “And I will try to work on telling you my concerns—although when the issue was you dismissing those very concerns, you cannot fault me for not trying again to talk to you about them.”
“And I apologize for that as well,” he said. “Is there anything else that you would like me to do? Are your issues with Mr. Porter resolved, or shall I speak with him? Or would you just prefer him to be replaced? His happiness means little to me, and yours means everything.”
“No, I believe that we have come to an understanding,” said Elizabeth. “I doubt that he will try to test me again.”
Based on the determination in her voice, Darcy could not blame Mr. Porter for that particular decision.
Later that night, in their separate rooms, both Darcy and Elizabeth slept more soundly than they had in many days. Elizabeth, although she was still on her guard, was pleased that Darcy finally realized what he had done. Darcy was just relieved that Elizabeth was speaking with him without scowling. It was not where he wished to be, but it was a fair shot better than it had been that morning.