Darcy arrived at Longbourn late the following morning. He, also, had slept precious little the previous night. He did not know that his pride could stand it if Elizabeth’s dislike of him was so strong that she would choose a town butcher over him. He hoped that he would not have to find out.
Elizabeth was alone in the sitting room when he was introduced. She was shaking a bit and she tried her hardest to calm herself. She did not want Mr. Darcy to know how very nervous she was.
Darcy was even more nervous, although he was better at hiding his emotions than she. He watched as she rose from the settee and walked over to him.
“I have considered your offer, sir,” she said, “and I accept. I will become your wife.”
Darcy let out a breath he did not even know that he was holding. He reached for her hand, and she hesitated for a moment before putting her hand in his.
“I could not be happier,” he said, working to keep his voice even.
She distrusted his words, but she was filled with relief not to marry the butcher. The mere thought of what might happen to her as Mr. Rowe’s wife made her shudder. Surely a marriage to Mr. Darcy must be preferable.
“What comes next?” she whispered, some of the fear that she felt trickling into her voice.
“Next, I believe that we plan for a wedding.”
“That should not be difficult. As we are still in mourning, it will need to be a small affair.”
“Whatever you desire,” he said, and he meant those words in every way possible.
Elizabeth stared across the table at her new husband. She did not know if she could ever reconcile the word “husband” with Mr. Darcy. Yet she did have to admit he had been exceptionally kind.
He had accompanied her to tell Mr. Rowe that she had accepted another offer. Elizabeth was grateful for Darcy’s presence, as she did not trust the butcher to handle the situation in a mannered way. Indeed, her suspicions were proven quite correct.
“Found a fancy man, did you?” Mr. Rowe had sneered at her. “I ought to have known that it was money that would turn your head.”
Elizabeth could think of no response – had Mr. Rowe not made it clear that the only benefit he could provide her was a degree of financial security? Who was he to judge her?
“I will thank you not to speak to my fiancee in that manner,” Darcy had said, a hint of a growl making its way into his voice. “Come, Elizabeth. There is nothing else to be done here.”
“And do not think of coming to me for arrangements for a wedding feast!” Mr. Rowe had called out behind them, unable to allow them to leave without one final word.
“You flatter yourself, sir,” said Darcy, swinging the door to the butcher shop closed behind him and escorting a very relieved Elizabeth back to Longbourn.
Darcy also had handled the arrangements for the wedding, which was a small affair as Elizabeth had requested. And now he sat at the Bennets’ table eating a quiet meal with the family, who were still in mourning, rather than throwing a larger wedding brunch. Elizabeth could not believe that this was the same man who had callously dismissed her as “not handsome enough” upon their first meeting.
None of this meant she entirely trusted him. She did not have a good explanation for the change in his actions towards her. She did have to admit, however, that she could think of no benefit that he received from marrying her. She certainly did not bring a large dowry to the marriage and she was not as fashionable or as sophisticated as the other women in his social circle. Try as she might, she could not find a selfish motive to assign to him in regards to their marriage.
The happiest person at the table appeared to be Mrs. Bennet. Her opinion of Mr. Darcy had changed drastically as soon as she discovered that he had offered for Elizabeth. He was now quite her favorite person, which was a trial for Darcy. She asked him unending questions about Pemberley and wished aloud, on several occasions, to view its splendor for herself.
Darcy knew what Mrs. Bennet was hinting towards and he nearly shuddered. He dearly hoped that Elizabeth would not want her mother to live with them. His feeling for Elizabeth were strong, but living with Mrs. Bennet would be enough to strain anyone’s goodwill.
“We should discuss your living arrangements,” he said, in order to direct Mrs. Bennet’s thoughts to a home that was not Pemberley. “Do you wish to stay in Hertfordshire, or is there somewhere else you would be more comfortable? London, perhaps?”
At the mention of this, Mrs. Bennet’s hands began to flutter with excitement. “Why, I had not even considered London! My husband did not like town at all, but I find it so exciting. My brother and his wife live there. Perhaps I could live close to them!”
“Would it not be a better idea, Mama,” said Elizabeth gently, “to keep my sisters where they are familiar? Where people know and love you?”
“Oh, but perhaps it is time for a change, Lizzy. You certainly will be living a different life! Why should we not?”
“But Mama!” said Lydia, and it was possible to hear the pout in her voice. “The regiment is stationed here, and there are so many young men who admire me. I do not wish to leave now. Perhaps after the regiment moves on.”
“What a good point, my darling!” Mrs. Bennet said, reaching to pat Lydia’s hand. “We would not want to remove you from this situation if there is a chance of you making a good match. Mr. Darcy, I believe that we will stay here for now. Perhaps a house in Meryton, near my sister?”
“I will arrange for it, and see you comfortably settled.”
“Oh, Mr. Darcy, what a true gentleman you are!” Mrs. Bennet replied.
He cared not a bit if she thought so, but he cared very much if Elizabeth did. He looked over at her and realized that she was staring out the window with a look on her face that appeared to be fear. How could I have been so foolish? he thought. She is worried about our wedding night. He regretted that he could not take her aside that instant and soothe her fears by telling her that he was prepared to wait to consummate the marriage until she felt ready, but he could not think of an excuse to do so. He resolved to tell her as soon as he could get her alone.
Darcy was correct in his assumption. Elizabeth was terrified of what would happen between them later that night. She had some sense of what it was that husbands and wives did – she had been around livestock all her life, after all. However, she did not know any of the specifics. Her mother had taken her aside the previous night and whispered about “doing your duty” and mentioned that it would hurt at first, but that it would not always. Even more than the thought of pain, Elizabeth was petrified at the fact that she would be so close to Mr. Darcy. For all his kindness, he was still practically a stranger to her. She glanced at him and realized he was watching her, so she schooled her face into a more neutral expression. She did not want to provide him with any more intimacies than were required as his wife; her thoughts were hers and hers alone. She might have lost the life that she had led in the past, but her mind still was and always would be her own.
After the meal, Darcy suggested that he and Elizabeth return to Netherfield. More than anything, he hoped to get some time to speak with her without one of her relatives fluttering about. Mrs. Bennet gave him a knowing look that he did not appreciate in the slightest. Her idea of what would go on at Netherfield was worlds away from the truth.
Elizabeth gathered some things she would need and the two ascended the carriage for Netherfield.
Darcy was careful to sit across from Elizabeth, rather than next to her. He did not want her to feel that he was taking liberties, even in their newly-wedded state.
“Elizabeth, I must speak with you in regards to a sensitive matter,” he said.
She held her breath. This was when they would discuss the wedding night. She wished that she could think of something, anything, to postpone this conversation.
“I hope that someday we will be husband and wife in more than name alone,” Darcy said “It is my intention to wait until that day for our marriage to be consummated.”
Elizabeth let out the breath she had been holding and stared at him in astonishment. “But, sir, it is your right to do with me as you will.”
“What I shall do with you,” he said with a ghost of a smile, “is make sure that you are well taken care of and protected. Do not think that this arrangement does not benefit me. I will expect you to take over the household management at Pemberley. I believe that you are more than capable of this.”
Elizabeth nodded, not even considering what would be required of her as the mistress of Pemberley. She was so relieved that he did not intend to consummate their marriage until she was ready. And what if I am never ready? whispered a voice in the back of her mind. She bade the voice be quiet. She would deal with that situation when it arose. For now, she had plenty to learn to keep her mind occupied.