The following morning, Elizabeth pleaded for a solitary walk to explore the area around Rosings. Darcy had intended to spend the morning riding with Colonel Fitzwilliam, but he found himself cornered by his aunt after breakfast.
“Nephew,” she said, “I find it very distasteful that you are so forward in showing your affection with your wife. I know that there is a period in the beginning of some marriages where couples are very affectionate, but it is rather base of you to do so in front of others. Especially in front of Anne! What of her feelings? Must you continually expose her to this indiscretion?”
Darcy stood stunned during this diatribe, but presently he recovered himself enough to respond.
“Aunt, I do not feel that my wife and I have been at any point inappropriate, but I will consider Anne’s feelings while we are at Rosings.”
“While you are at Rosings?” she said, her voice rising nearly to a screech. “I will have no nephew of mine gallivanting around and behaving inappropriately! Remember who your grandfather was!”
“There has been no gallivanting of any sort,” Darcy said coldly.
Lady Catherine tried a different tack. Her voice became more cajoling.
“Darcy, did you ever see your parents act so freely towards one another? Have you seen it amongst your own relations? You must be certain, dear boy, that you maintain propriety, especially since your wife comes from a different class than you.”
Darcy opened his mouth to say that he and Elizabeth were of the same class, but then quickly closed it. There was nothing to be gained from trying to argue that with his aunt. What was more, he indeed had never seen his parents touch each other affectionately, although he had no doubt of the depth of their love for one another.
Could it be true that he and Elizabeth had been inappropriate? Since their marriage had been consummated, they had been around no one except Georgiana and the servants; certainly no one who would feel comfortable telling him that he was skirting the line of propriety or giving offense to others. He was well aware of his aunt’s meddling ways, but in this instance, at least, it might be that what she said was the truth. Certainly, if she thought it improper, then the other matrons of society were likely to as well. The last thing he wanted was for Elizabeth to appear to be the cause of his loss of etiquette, or for Elizabeth to be considered any sort of detrimental influence.
He bowed. “Thank you for calling my attention to this,” he said. “I will remedy it immediately.”
With a satisfied swish of her skirt, Lady Catherine turned and marched away, confident in her victory.
Elizabeth’s morning was quite a bit more pleasant than Darcy’s. She savored her walk, feeling the sunshine warm on her face after spending too much time inside. Lady Catherine had frowned at the idea of Elizabeth walking and had instead offered her the carriage, which Elizabeth had declined. She knew that she should offer some concessions towards Lady Catherine, but at that very point in time, she considered the fact that they were still speaking to be concession enough.
“Arrogant woman,” Elizabeth said under her breath, happy to be able to voice what she had been feeling since they arrived, if only to herself.
She walked near the parsonage, peering at it curiously. It was where Mr. Collins had brought his bride after they were married, and Elizabeth very much wanted to see how Charlotte had decorated the house. There did not appear to be anyone around, but the lawn and garden were well tended. Elizabeth reminded herself that surely Lady Catherine would have replaced Mr. Collins, and so someone else would be living in the parsonage. With regret, she steered away from the house. It would not do to be caught spying on the new parson. How on earth would she explain that at dinner?
Elizabeth began to walk towards a grove of trees at the crest of a hill. She did not have any particular end point in mind, so the trees seemed as good a destination as any. She was glad for the fact that she had requested that Stewart pack a sturdy day dress that she was not worried about snagging; it felt freeing to be able to explore as she used to in the days before her father had passed away.
The trees presented a bit of an optical illusion, and the walk up the hill took her longer than expected. Elizabeth reached the top, cheeks flushed with exertion, and sat for a moment under a tree, simply enjoying the fresh air. Since her walk up the hill had taken her longer than she thought, she gave herself permission to descend much more quickly than was strictly proper. She nearly bounded down the hill, darting side to side and laughing as the wind fluttered through her curls.
Elizabeth was quickly approaching the road and she cautioned herself to slow down. Before she could return herself to a proper state, a phaeton rounded a bend in the road and she was face to face with Anne.
Elizabeth stared for a moment, her hair a mess and her cheeks flushed, and had no idea what to say. Luckily, Anne spoke first.
“It appears that you are enjoying your walk,” she said, with a smile.
Elizabeth smiled back. “I do so love the fresh air.”
“I do, as well,” said Anne. “Mrs. Jenkinson and I enjoy our rides so much, do we not, Mrs. Jenkinson?”
Anne’s companion smiled and then busied herself arranging the blanket that lay on Anne’s lap.
“I would invite you to ride with us, but we lack the capacity,” said Anne, gesturing to the two seats in the cart.
“Thank you for thinking of me, but I am happy to walk back,” Elizabeth said. “It is so very peaceful.”
“I understand,” said Anne. Her smile faltered for a moment, and Elizabeth mused that she must almost never get time to herself, without the watchful eye of either her companion or her mother. Anne was like a delicate songbird, trapped in a cage for her own protection. Once again, Elizabeth was overwhelmed with pity for Anne.
Suddenly Anne regained her smile, although it was tinged with sadness. “We shall see one another back at Rosings, then,” she said, and commanded her ponies forward.
Elizabeth began her walk back to the house, but her mind was filled with troubled thoughts of what could be done to help Anne.