It was with great reluctance that they rose from the bed almost half an hour later. The presence of friends and family in the public rooms below could no longer be ignored. Darcy proved his worth as a lady's maid, helping Elizabeth put back on the white gown and undergarments which only minutes ago he had gently removed from her body. It was to the credit of Sarah that her hair was restored to its previous sculpture of pins and other adornments.
When Elizabeth was dressed, she turned to admire her new bedchambers, which she had not seen until this moment. Like the rest of Pemberley's interior, they reflected a subtle elegance and understated wealth, along with a sense of neutrality, making the mood of the room suitable to both night and daylight.
Her observation complete, she turned to watch her husband once more. She still could not believe what had happened only hours ago. No longer did she need to fear about the Earl finding her. He was no more. Instead she was the wife of the best man she had ever known.
She smiled as she watched him arrange his cravat without the assistance of his valet, in front of her dressing mirror. For all the trappings of his wealth, he was perfectly capable of looking after himself, unlike others who needed a servant for everything.
Her eyes ran down his body, taking note of how well he looked in his formal wedding clothes. Her mind supplied the images her eyes at present could not; of his bare sculpted chest, and the look upon his face as he took her. He had held her so gently. The memories were still so vivid, in all their senses. Of his lips upon her skin, exploring her intimately. Of the caresses his hands applied, each touch arousing her to a greater degree of passion and feeling. Most of all, how it felt when he entered her, and what a contrast his technique was from the Earl's.
What had always felt as an intrusion, now felt like the sweetest of pleasures. Combined with the expression upon his face, and the feeling conveyed by his dark eyes, their joining seemed to her almost hallowed, as profound and as deep as if it were a holy communion. He gazed at her with such intensity as they lay joined, striving for their ultimate pleasure together. In his view, she felt herself to be infinitely precious to him. And she could help but return that feeling, just as equally upon him.
He turned suddenly, his ministrations upon his cravat complete, catching her gaze. Elizabeth could not help but blush as she tried to put her delightful recollections to the back of her mind and focus on the present. Retrieving his jacket from the chair where it had been thrown shortly after they had entered her bedchamber, he made his way over to her, putting it on as he did so.
"Do I please you, my Elizabeth?" he asked her softly, his voice lingering over her name, in that way which delighted her so.
"Always, my Fitzwilliam," she replied, bestowing upon him the same endearment to his own first name, making Darcy marvel once more at how no one else could speak it and touch him so profoundly as she.
They stood there, close together but not touching, the longing desire of wanting to repeat their lovemaking evident in what little space there was between them. Their dark eyes, so in tune now with the thoughts, wishes, dreams and feelings of the other, that no more words needed to be said, conveyed their desire to the other, and the mutual regret that familial duty, along with the duty as master and mistress of the house, called them back downstairs.
Darcy bent his head so their foreheads touched, closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. He would have liked nothing more right now than to take his bride back to the bed they had only just risen from, but he knew the guests were waiting for them below. They had delayed their reappearance too long already. Reluctantly he straightened up, and resolved to take only her hand.
"Ready, my love?" he asked her regretfully.
Elizabeth silently assented, equally regretful, and allowed him to lead the way out of their room.
Upon their entrance into the Ballroom, all guests present fell into silence, their eyes eagerly turned to the appearance of their hosts. Before the Darcys' entrance, their minds had already established that this second wedding for the Countess of Saffron Walden was quite clearly a love match, making all but those who knew the couple the most wonder now what the first had been like, and speculate on how long they had been in love before the announcement of the engagement.
The eyes of the guests remained upon their hosts as Darcy took his lady out for the first dance of the evening. The number of couples would have been quite inferior to the size of the room, had not the number of those guests who were still talking been sufficient to fill the rest of the space. It was a credit to the mastery of the orchestra present that the sound of the guests' chatter did not drift above the music, enabling the intricate movements of the first dances to be performed according to each of its participants' skills in the art.
Darcy and Elizabeth themselves remained oblivious to the speculation surrounding them, and the interest their absence had attracted. They had obeyed the call of duty to show themselves present at the dance; whether their minds were actually there with them was quite another matter, and not up for negotiation. Their movements were as perfect as usual, both having become accustomed to dancing almost as soon as they could walk. But their eyes rarely removed from the countenance or form of each other, and the expression upon their faces was nothing short of pure contentment.
Around them the guests observed them, their minds busily attempting to calculate what vast amounts of fortunes were now combined. If Saffron Walden was said to be one of the richest earldoms, then so was Mr Darcy said to be one of the richest men in the kingdom. Apart, both of them could have been a very eligible prize for anyone, but together the fortune that would be bestowed upon any children from their union was even more powerful.
Already some were contemplating the worth of the next generation, trying to puzzle out if any of their families could ever hope to connect themselves so rich an alliance. As for those who were not altogether inclined towards monetary value, they watched closely the faces of the bride and groom, speculating with their creative eye how long the love which was so clearly divined from their manners and expressions, had existed between them, what the real character of the late Earl had been like, and how even more dashing the addition of a title made the master of Pemberley now.
Of the family present, there was just an equal confection of mixed reactions. Mr and Mrs Bingley stood next to their friends and siblings in the dancing line, each content with the match that their closest friends had made, and how happier each looked now. From the side lines, Mr Bennet watched them, his smile behind a face of perfect composure, as he bore his wife's ceaseless chatter about their new son in law with tolerable equanimity.
A short distance away, a equally taciturn gentleman stood with his wife, although she was far more suited to him than Mrs Bennet was to her husband. The Earl of Matlock watched his only nephew with contentment, glad that he had managed to make a match equal both in terms of wealth and a meeting of minds. His wife observed with him, her eyes generally more on her niece, as her mind foresaw the next great society hostess, her future successor.
A little distance away from them stood the Viscount and his wife, their son and heir, his own mind equally approving of his cousin's match. The Viscountess stood quietly beside him, her thoughts on her own wedding day, remembering that the new mistress of Pemberley looked just as happy as she. Like her mother in law, she pictured the future, lending her prayers that her cousins would have much happiness.
On the opposite side of the Ballroom stood Colonel Fitzwilliam, also pleased with the result of many months of private speculation and concern between himself and his wife. As for himself, he was still revelling in his own recent love match, having found in Charlotte all that he could ever have wished for, along with all the joy of discovery that she saw in him the same.
Charlotte, who had never expected to fall in love, was now pleased to note that the expression upon her friend Elizabeth was very similar to that of her own. She felt the caress of her husband's hand upon her own and looked up, quietly accepting his request that they dance the two next. Charlotte cast one final look to her friend, wishing her every happiness.
By one of the balconies nearby, stood a woman who was undecided about whether to be angry or content with this current situation. Lady Catherine de Bourgh had always entertained high hopes that her daughter would marry her nephew Darcy, and that together they would unite the two powerful estates of Rosings and Pemberley. Learning of his engagement had, understandably, given her much shock and pause for thought.
She had been quite saddened to lose her godson so soon, though equally angry at the nature of his death. She had always disapproved of his passion for that dreadful club. And now she had even more reason to do so. Now she was in a quandary as to whether or not approve of the union which had been the result of Lucius' death. That the vast wealth of the Saffron Walden's had not gone out of the family was welcome news, but that it had put an end to her own plans for her nephew was quite a different matter.
There was no one now, within the family, to wed dear Anne, which meant that Rosings would soon be lost to the Fitzwilliam family forever. Oh, Lady Catherine was shrewd enough to know that the next generation might bring it back into the family once more, but also wise enough to realise how unlikely that event could also be. Therefore, she stood before one of the balconies, her eyes constantly on her nephew and his bride, and wondering how she did not foresee this coming in time to work the match to her own advantage.
The reactions to the match of the remaining daughters of the Bennet family were just as different. Mary stood silently, refusing every request she received to dance, wondering when her mother would finally become reconciled to her wish to receive the veil. Kitty observed her sister and new brother in law with some wistfulness, hoping that, one day, she would be just as blessed as Elizabeth, and have a husband who loved her as much as Darcy evidently adored her sister.
As for Lydia, she was mourning the lack of redcoats among the guests, the caution and restrictions which her father had placed upon her behaviour after she returned from London. More than a yearhad passed since her daring escape from the late Earl of Saffron Walden's townhouse, a year spent in the confined and unvarying society that was to be had now at Longbourn. No walks into Meryton, no balls or assemblies, or militia quartered. She had not even been allowed to persuade the Bingleys to host a ball before they quitted Netherfield for one of the estates which Lizzy had been left by her late husband.
The music drew to a close, causing the dancing couples to part and perform their bows and curtseys. Darcy eagerly rose up to take possession of his wife's gloved hand, leading her away from the dancing, in quest of an empty balcony. The journey seemed long, as they passed guests and family on their way, all wanting to shake their hands and congratulate them on their nuptials, but eventually they reached their goal.
Darcy swept them out into the balmy night air, the curtains closing behind them, giving them a privacy albeit somewhat brief, for their duties as host and hostess forbade them from seeking to linger in such a state, however much their hearts and minds might desire it. Smiling, he took her other hand and led her to the railing before them.
"Four years ago today," he began speaking, his mouth by her ear, his voice seeming to Elizabeth a tender caress, while his hands worked an equal enchantment upon her gloved arms. "I was standing here, without any idea of the happiness that awaited me. If someone had told me what lay before me, I would never have believed them. For I could never have imagined such contentment was to come." He turned to face her, drawing into his arms. "Thank you, Elizabeth, for giving me everything I could ever have hoped and dreamed for, and more."
Elizabeth smiled, her eyes misty with tears of joy. "Four years ago today," she echoed, her own mind remembering what had happened to her then, now seeming so long ago. "I stood in my bedchamber at Hanover Square, despairing of ever escaping my husband. I had thought myself to be in love, and instead of enjoying such an emotion, I had become disillusioned with the whole idea of it.
"If someone had told me then what awaited me, I would never have believed them. I did not think that I could ever be that fortunate." She blinked away her tears, taking a deep breath, before finishing her sentiments. "Thank you, Fitzwilliam, for teaching me to believe in love again, and to know that it existed for myself, as well as others. Thank you for making me feel safe once more, and for appreciating my true self, and not the character I had put to forth in order to endure the Earl."
When she had finished, her eyes were not the only ones misty with tears. Darcy could not say anything in reply, so choked with emotion was he. Instead, his expression supplied what his voice could not, as he took her into his embrace, his lips finding hers for a long, eloquently satisfying, passionate kiss.
Later, when the day had long since turned into the next, and the ball had drawn to a close, with all its guests ensconced in their rooms, the Darcys moved once more to the bedchamber of the mistress of the house.
Darcy dismissed their sleepy servants, locking the door behind them. He stepped back up to Elizabeth, the meaning in his gaze unmistakable. At the same time, their arms drew around each other, followed shortly by a meeting of their lips. His hands explored her dark hair, seeking out hairpins, letting them fall to the floor to be tidied away upon the morrow.
Elizabeth deftly undid his cravat, then drew apart the buttons of his shirt, until the material revealed his bare chest. Her fingers slipped inside, their attentions upon his skin causing him to shiver with pleasure, in anticipation for what further delights were to come.
Silently they divested each other of their clothes, and moved to lie upon the bed. Darcy's lips sought her own once more as they covered themselves with silken sheets, rolling amongst them and the cushions in what was felt to be by now a well known dance to their bodies, but nonetheless still as enjoyable and momentous as the first which was but hours old.
Elizabeth met him move for move, kiss for kiss, caress for caress, passion for passion. She moaned her every pleasure, as his lips and hands worshipped at her breasts, her stomach, her arms and thighs, and that most secret part of her, one which he was becoming to know very intimately.
He too soon found himself moaning his own pleasure, as she returned to him the same caresses and same kisses in the same places upon his body. She felt nothing but contentment now, and of the sweetest and most profound kind. Her eyes caught and held his as he entered her, never parting from them as he began to shift in and out of her, drawing them closer and closer to mutual communion.
A long time afterwards, when they had exhausted all their strength for such delightful activity, they remained awake in each others arms, content just to hold each other, as their minds imagined their future, and what further delights awaited them.
And what a future it was to be. Their union would forever be contained in legend, to be recounted in countless different ways, never able to fully capture the joy and contentment they enjoyed, but always to be attempted. To be forever treasured by others, and held as the ideal meeting of loves, minds and souls.