Elizabeth was surprised to find that she felt shy around Darcy all over again. Now that their marriage had been consummated, she saw everything in their relationship in a new light. Sometimes she would find him staring at her with a small smile on his lips, as if he knew a secret to which no one else was privy. Her cheeks flushed and she often looked away, alarmed by how responsive her body was to his. She certainly understood now why marriage was a sacrament. What was happening between them was far too powerful to be anything but.
Darcy had never been so happy in his life. Finally, Elizabeth was his in every way. He often doubted he would ever be enough of a man to deserve her, but he was not about to let his fears stand in the way of loving her. He was thankful for his breeding; if it was not for the strong morals and mores that had been instilled in him his entire life, he did not know if he would be able to withstand even being in the same room as his wife without touching her.
Instead, he watched her as often as he could, marveling at the way her eyes lit up sometimes as she was staring off into the distance, as if a grand idea had just occurred to her. He was particularly drawn to her lips, although he understood that there he trod dangerous ground. It would not do to have the master of the house detain the mistress in midday. He reminded himself of this fact frequently, in an attempt to override the instinct that drove him to possess her.
They danced this pas de deux for weeks, seeing no one but Georgiana and the servants and not minding a whit. Even when they were busy with household tasks, a corner of each of their minds was reserved for the other. They did not feel the passing of time, but time indeed passed. They were startled out of their extended reverie by the arrival of a letter.
Darcy frowned as he read it. “My Lady aunt wishes for us to visit,” he told Elizabeth.
Elizabeth could not help but shudder. She only knew of Lady Catherine de Bourgh from Mr. Collins’ effusive compliments and from Charlotte’s letters. The two painted a very contradictory picture. The one thing that was constant was the strong sense that Lady Catherine was not one to be trifled with. Elizabeth would not have especially cared about Lady Catherine’s opinion had she met her when she was still unwed, but she did not want to do anything that would embarrass her husband. She had known that she would be required to meet Lady Catherine at some point, but she had hoped to put it off for a while longer.
Nevertheless, she smiled and said, “Of course we must visit.”
Darcy seemed relieved at her acceptance of the trip. “I will make the necessary preparations. Three days should be sufficient. Would you be so good as to tell Georgiana when we will leave?”
Elizabeth agreed to tell Georgiana, and left the room. As soon as she was sure that Darcy could no longer see her, the carefree smile disappeared from her face. Was she ready for this particular trial?
Too soon for Elizabeth’s liking, she, Georgiana, and Darcy were traveling to Rosings. Georgiana took it upon herself to prepare Elizabeth for Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
“My aunt is quite determined of her own opinion,” instructed Georgiana. “You do not have to be of the same opinion, but be sure never to let her know that! She does not care whether you agree with her or not, as long as you pretend to.”
This was in no way settling Elizabeth’s nerves.
“She will want to hear you play the piano forte,” Georgiana continued. “She feels that a lady’s breeding is most evident in her musical accomplishments.”
Elizabeth was feeling even worse. “But I do not play well at all!” she said.
Georgiana smiled. “Then you play a good deal better than Lady Catherine and her daughter, Anne. However, my aunt maintains that should they have chosen to learn the instrument, they would naturally be quite proficient.”
Elizabeth had difficulty reconciling herself to the fact that her breeding would be evaluated on something the judge herself could not do, but she dismissed the thought. Lady Catherine could be quite as contradictory as she chose, and Elizabeth would just need to learn to tolerate it.
“It is not all bad news,” said Darcy, with a smile. “Our cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam will be there.”
He had spoken of Colonel Fitzwilliam often, but Elizabeth had not yet had the chance to meet the man. Considering how highly he was spoken of by both Darcy and Georgiana, Elizabeth was certain that she would like him.
Georgiana clapped. “Oh, Richard will be there!” she said excitedly. “Brother, why did you not tell me?”
“If I had told you, then I would not have it as a surprise now.”
Georgiana agreed that he was correct. Elizabeth could see a light in her sister-in-law’s eyes that had not been there before. “Tell me about him,” Elizabeth prompted.
“He is quite the most entertaining person!” Georgiana said. “He always has stories to tell, and he can make even the dullest topic seem interesting.” She leaned in conspiratorially and said, “He was quite my defender when I was younger and Fitzwilliam and Wi—well, Fitzwilliam wanted nothing to do with me.”
“What amuses boys of fifteen is much different from what amuses girls of four,” Darcy said mildly. “I believe that you ought to be thanking me for saving you from all sorts of things that young ladies ought not hear.”
Georgiana’s tone became serious. “Yes, but there is such a thing as being too sheltered,” she said, her eyes clouding for a moment. Elizabeth could only surmise that Georgiana alluded to the misdeeds of Mr. Wickham.
“Indeed,” Elizabeth said, attempting to divert her sister-in-law from such thoughts. “It is fortunate that you have someone as well-read as I to keep you informed,” she said lightly.
Georgiana looked at her, the light coming back into her eyes. “Yes, I am quite lucky indeed,” she said. “Now, back to preparing you for what is to come.”