Elizabeth was shocked at the calm demeanor she had been able to display in Darcy’s study. She was, in actuality, shaken to her core. She could see that her words hurt him, but she did not understand why. Clearly, she was not the wife he had hoped her to be, but she had offered him the best possible solution to that fact. It was high time that both of them understood that their marriage would be a loveless one. Perhaps, with work, they could aim for respect instead.
She truly did not understand what Darcy’s goal was. He had married her to save her from a bad situation, and she understood what a noble, selfless decision that had been. He had essentially traded his chance at a marriage to someone he truly loved for her. How could the man who did that be the same one who lashed out at every sign of difficulty?
Perhaps he had expected a meeker, more mindlessly obedient wife. Elizabeth snorted. If that had been his intention, he had chosen poorly indeed. She wanted to be a good wife, but she would not allow him to speak to her however he wanted in the process. She would not compromise her character to be the wife he wanted.
She had been wandering the halls as these thoughts went through her head. She did not even realize that she was near Georgiana’s suites until Georgiana opened the door and pulled her inside.
“Look!” Georgiana said, pointing out her window.
Stewart and Thomas were standing outside, speaking to one another. They stood very near one another and Elizabeth could tell by the smile on Stewart’s face that the conversation was very pleasant indeed. They spoke for several minutes, and then Thomas brought Stewart’s hand to his lips and placed a lingering kiss on it.
Elizabeth and Georgiana looked at each other delightedly. Elizabeth was glad to see a relationship that was working well, as a contrast to the problems in her own. It was a relief to know that love still existed in some places in Pemberley.
“Do you think we shall hear an announcement soon?” said Georgiana with a smile.
“Oh, I do hope so,” said Elizabeth. “Stewart so deserves happiness.”
Would that I could have happiness like that, she thought. But she could see no way that was possible, considering her current situation.
Elizabeth looked forward to that evening, when she could chat with Stewart as she got ready for bed. She was hoping to find out a bit more about what was happening between Stewart and Thomas.
Stewart, however, seemed much less happy than she had been earlier in the day. In fact, every action belied the fact that she was quite upset. She went through her routine distantly, which was a contrast to her normal gregarious nature.
“Stewart, is something the matter?” asked Elizabeth.
“It is nothing, ma’am. I do not wish to trouble you with it.”
“Please do tell me,” said Elizabeth gently. “If it is bothering you so much, please let me share the burden.”
A tear ran down Stewart’s cheek and she quickly brushed it away as if she did not want Elizabeth to see. “I feel so foolish, acting this way,” she said. “I did not suspect that it would be this difficult.”
Elizabeth nodded but remained silent, hoping to encourage Stewart to continue.
“Thomas and I have been spending time together, and it has been lovely,” said Stewart. “I truly believed that we had an understanding about where our relationship was going. To be honest, Mrs. Darcy, I am quite in love with him.”
Elizabeth smiled to hear this and looked at Stewart to continue.
“But today, a girl that I have never seen before came from the village. She and Thomas seemed to know each other well. They spoke for several minutes and then he made an excuse to Mr. Combes to leave for an hour or two and they rushed off together. He did not know that I was witnessing what happened. Is there any explanation for this other than the one my mind is supplying me?”
“Well, certainly, there could be,” said Elizabeth. “Have you spoken with him about it?”
“I have not,” said Stewart. “What am I to ask? ‘Are you romancing a village girl at the same time you are romancing me?’ I cannot imagine.”
“I can think of any number of innocent reasons for the scene that you witnessed. Do not assume the worst, dear Stewart. Do not be angry with him until you have spoken to him.”
“I will try,” said Stewart, sounding unconvinced, “but I do not have high hopes.”
Elizabeth fell asleep that night desperately hoping that Stewart was incorrect about Thomas’s motivation. She hoped that Stewart, at least, could have some happiness in her life.
Stewart continued to be noticeably quiet for the next few days. Elizabeth did not question her, instead waiting for Stewart to speak of what was troubling her. Elizabeth did suspect that the conversation between Thomas and Stewart still had not happened. Finally, almost a week after they had first discussed it, Stewart came into Elizabeth’s rooms with a broad smile on her face.
“I did it,” she said. “I finally spoke to Thomas.”
“And it looks as if the conversation went well,” said Elizabeth. “Will you tell me about it?”
“The girl who came to get him was a friend of his sister’s,” said Stewart. “There was a man in the village who was questioning his sister’s honor, and speaking in a very derogatory way about her. His sister was upset, but did not wish to bother him, so her friend came to him directly. His trip to the village was, he told me, to “sort out” the issue with the other man. I do not know in what way he did, but an agreement was reached and the man apologized to both Thomas and his sister.”
“So he rushed off simply to defend his sister’s honor?”
“That is the reason. Oh, I am so ashamed when I think of the assumptions that I made!”
“It does not do to make assumptions,” Elizabeth agreed. “It is always better to talk about things than to let them poison a relationship with misunderstandings.”
The women sat for a few moments in pleasant silence as Stewart brushed Elizabeth’s hair. Elizabeth thought of how difficult it was for two people to understand one another, and how relationships, like gardens, needed hard work and close tending if they were to flourish. She was pleased with the resolution of Stewart’s problem, and the role she had played in that resolution.
It was not until much later, as she was lying in bed, that Elizabeth realized that she had treated her own relationship with much less care than she had Stewart’s and Thomas’s. She was quick to judge Darcy and slow to forgive. This was not to say that Darcy was without his faults, but she was certainly not blameless in the situation between the two of them. What if their most recent fight had been based on a misunderstanding? She suspected that something had happened to Georgiana that she did not know about. Could that explain the harshness of Darcy’s reaction? She knew that he would do anything for his sister; certainly Elizabeth would do no less for her, now that she knew Georgiana as her own sister. Perhaps, Elizabeth thought, I should take my own advice and not judge a situation before I have all the information.
It certainly could not make the situation any worse than it already was. Elizabeth drifted off to sleep resolving to be more open-minded when it came to dealing with her husband.