The door to Darcy’s room had not been locked once since they had come to Pemberley. Elizabeth remembered him telling her that his door would always be open to her, and a kernel of fear was planted in her stomach. Certainly, there must be an explanation.
She headed into her sitting room, intending to knock on the main door to his rooms. He might still be in bed, but she knew that he often arose early to look over his papers and prepare for the day. If she used the main door, she would not disturb him if he was still abed.
When she was nearly at the door of her suite, she heard his door close. She opened her door hurriedly, hoping to catch him before he went to his office. Instead, she saw the Duchess, wearing the same gown that she had on the previous night and looking very mussed. The Duchess stopped in the hallway, turned back towards Darcy’s door, and blew a kiss. To keep from being seen, Elizabeth rushed back into her room and locked the door.
Her heart was beating very quickly. What had the Duchess been doing there? It was clear she had not spent the night in her own room. Elizabeth thought about how messy the Duchess’s hair was, and how she carried her shoes rather than wearing them. And then there was the matter of the thrown kiss! She had all the indications of a woman who had spent the night in the throes of passion.
But Darcy would not do that. Elizabeth knew him better than that. Things between them had been so wonderful. He would not betray her like that. There had to be some other explanation for why she saw the Duchess leaving his suite and why his bedroom door was locked.
She sat heavily on the settee to work out an alternate explanation. Perhaps he had locked his door to keep from disturbing her while she was ill. No, that made no sense. How would a lock affect whether she was disturbed? She wracked her brain trying to think of a reason, but she failed. Every thought she had was illogical. That door had not been locked a single night since she had arrived at Pemberley, so why on earth would he have taken the time to lock it, unless he was doing something he did not want her to know about?
Elizabeth might have been able to explain the door lock, although she was not sure how. She might have been able to explain seeing the Duchess in the hall, although she and Darcy had the only rooms in that hallway. But the two facts together lent credence to what Caroline Bingley had said the night before.
She suddenly remembered the conversation with Darcy after the incident with Lord Stapleton and Mr. Colborne, where she had told him he had her blessing to take a mistress. She had assumed, with the thaw in their relationship, that he had no intention of availing himself of that particular offer. But she had never told him she no longer felt that way. She had simply assumed that he would know.
What would he want with a mistress? Was his wife not enough for him? Questions whirled through Elizabeth’s head, and the next thing she knew, tears were running down her cheek. She remembered how surprisingly agreeable he had been when Georgiana first suggested the ball. Was it so that he could see the Duchess? Had this all been planned? And how long had it been going on? Based on what Miss Bingley said, it was likely that they had been involved for some time. Did he have a mistress even before she had told him he could take one? And ultimately, did it matter to her if he did, seeing that he had a mistress now?
Stewart had awoken and walked into the sitting room to find Elizabeth bent over, sobbing.
“My lady, what is wrong? Did something happen with the baby?” Stewart asked frantically.
Elizabeth looked up and just stared at her lady’s maid for a moment. “No, Stewart. The baby is fine.”
“Then what has upset you to this degree?”
“I am not yet ready to speak of it. Can you make me look as if I have not been crying? I cannot go downstairs looking like this.”
Stewart got to work, giving Elizabeth a cold cloth to press under her eyes while her hair was tidied. Elizabeth got her sobs under control so the cloth could do its work, and by the time her hair was finished, Elizabeth’s eyes were noticeably less puffy. After several more minutes, her appearance did not give a hint of the turmoil that she was feeling, and she felt prepared to attend breakfast.
As she walked past Darcy’s rooms, the door opened and he stepped out. He seemed surprised to see her.
“I did not think you would be up so early,” he said. “With your illness last night, I expected you to sleep late this morning.”
“But I did not,” she said, and continued walking.
He caught up to her and took her hand, forcing her to stop. “Tell me how you are feeling,” he said. “Do you still feel nauseated?”
“My stomach is fine,” she said, which was true enough. It was her heart that hurt.
“Elizabeth, why are you being so short in your answers? Have I done something to upset you?”
She flashed her eyes at him dangerously. “I do not know. Do you have anything to confess?”
He looked at her helplessly, completely taken aback by her words. “What confession am I to make?”
“The only appropriate confession: the truth,” she said. She turned and made her way down the stairs, leaving a confused Darcy staring after her.
Darcy was entirely perplexed by how Elizabeth was behaving. The previous night, their relationship had seemed stable. They had worked together to deal with the Wickham issue without a trace of the animosity that she was currently showing. Was Elizabeth upset that he had not checked on her the previous night? He had considered it, but he did not want to wake her so he decided against it. Perhaps that had been the wrong decision. But he could not imagine that she would be so powerfully upset over a decision like that; she would not even have known if he checked on her, because she would have been asleep. She was behaving very strangely and he wanted to discover why; however, there were obligations to the guests who were still there. Darcy decided to wait to speak with his wife until they were alone.
He headed for the dining room for breakfast, but saw the Duchess of Worthingham walking towards him and veered off in a different direction. He thought he had made himself quite clear when she attempted to let herself into his room that morning, but the Duchess was known to ignore other people’s wishes to get what she wanted. With what was going on with Elizabeth, he had neither the time nor the energy to deal with the Duchess.
Earlier that morning, he had heard the door to his suites open. He had assumed that it was a maid bringing him tea, although the hour was very early for that. It would not be Elizabeth; why would she not use the door between their bedrooms? He had waited to hear the door open and close again as the person left, but that did not happen. Just then, the door to his bedroom had opened. Darcy sat straight up in bed and saw the Duchess standing there.
“Good morning, Darcy,” she had said, her words slightly slurring together in a way that told him she was still rather drunk. “I could not find your rooms to keep your bed warm last night, but I clearly had better luck this morning.”
She had then taken her shoes off and stumbled towards the bed. “After that silly little thing you married, I bet you are desperate for a real woman. So here I am.”
The Duchess had smiled in a way that she must have thought was seductive, but really just made her look foolish. This was not the way that Darcy had planned to start his day.
“You must leave immediately, Your Grace. You obviously know neither what you are doing nor what you are saying.”
To Darcy’s horror, the Duchess had sat down on his bed. Darcy had jumped out the other side, keeping the bed between them. He was in his bedclothes, but there was nothing that could be done about that.
“I know you desire me, Darcy,” she had said. “You have always flirted with me.”
“Perhaps when I was young and foolish,” he had responded. “I am now a married man.”
“I am also married,” said the Duchess, pouting. “I will not tell your wife if you do not tell my husband.”
Darcy had walked around to the side of the bed and offered the Duchess his hand. She, believing it to be a sign that he had acquiesced, had taken his hand and risen from the bed, coming in close to embrace him. Darcy, who was not under the effects of too much wine, had gracefully taken a step back and dropped her hand.
“You must leave,” he had said, once again.
“I cannot believe that you are choosing that little country girl over me,” the Duchess said.
“She is your superior in every way except rank,” Darcy had said coldly. “Now, will you leave on your own, or do I need to send for your husband?”
The Duchess had thrown back her head and laughed. “You are a fool, Darcy. I have never before had a man refuse me, married or not.”
“I am sorry that you have met so many men of inferior moral character,” Darcy said. “Leave my rooms.”
She rolled her eyes at him and walked over to the door. “Soon, you will be begging me to reconsider,” she said. Before Darcy could respond, she had left the room and slammed the door.
Darcy had sat down heavily on the bed. It was true that he had responded to her flirtations when he was younger, but he had never imagined that she would take things so far as to come to his rooms. She had made it sound as if assignations with married men were a common occurrence for her. He had shaken his head, perplexed, and then rang for his valet.
As though the incident with the Duchess was not odd enough, now Elizabeth was behaving strangely. Darcy could not imagine what was happening with the women around him. Perhaps he should avoid Georgiana for the morning, just in case.