Ch. 27 Opera part 2

Elizabeth excused herself to join some of the other ladies in the powder room while Darcy procured some wine. The room was adorned with fabric walls and gilded furniture. Some ladies stood by a mirror reapplying powder to their hair, adjusting their bodices, or rouging their cheeks, while some dipped their handkerchiefs in a basin of water to cool their skin; others stood about or lounged on sofas contributing to London gossip.

She took in her surroundings and made her way to a mirror while removing her gloves. The curls in her hair were prone to escape to make her appear rather disheveled. Her intent was to smooth the hair that escaped her coiffure and tame the frizz. With her hands up and a pin held between her lips, a conversation behind her captured her attention.

"Did you see Mr. Darcy and his betrothed? I could not see very well from my seat, but I understand that he has brought her and her family tonight."

"I am certain that he has. I did see the Matlocks. Lady Matlock always looks so elegant." There was some shuffling in agreement to the statement and a question answered about which couturier the Lady frequents.

A third voice prompted Elizabeth to shift slightly to see the group behind her in the mirror. She did not recognize any of the ladies.

"Who shall care about the Lady's clothing when she insists on flaunting her nephew's betrothed? The nerve! Lady Matlock has gumption, I'll give her that. I have it on good authority that Darcy's engagement was not brought about by traditional means."

One lady had a large flower pin on her turban; her eyes were round as the flower with horror and excitement over the conversation.

The first speaker had some of her ironed hair draped over her shoulder to detract from her flat bosom. She covered her mouth with her hands and gasped. "No! But Mr. Darcy has always appeared to be such a perfect gentleman. My cousin was greatly saddened when he paid her no mind at a dinner party last season."

The bitter third lady raised a brow, "Perhaps if your cousin had offered him more than a smile she could have caught him instead."

With the hope of gaining more information, the turbaned head said, "Do not be unkind, Molly. I am sure he would not have picked an unsuitable lady." The statement sounded more like a question.

Elizabeth could not listen to more. Her stomach was cramping and her hands shaking as she tried to yank her gloves back into place.

"Miss Bingley was quite clear that Miss Bennet is not suitable. I called on her not three days ago. It seems that Miss Bennet did not even bring a dowry to the match. He will surely have to dip into the Pemberley coffers to support his mistress."

Elizabeth put her chin up and fled.

Darcy smiled when he saw her coming his way. His smile was soon replaced by worry by her flustered state. "Are you well? Do you wish to sit? Here, have some wine." He rushed to set his own glass at a nearby table then took her elbow and offered her the beverage.

Elizabeth could not bring herself to look him in the eyes. She shook her head and bit her lip as she accepted the goblet of wine. "Thank you," she said before consuming half. Taking a breath she attempted to push her thoughts aside and smile for her concerned fiancé. "I am well."

He did not look convinced but had no time to reply before Lady Matlock came to join them and introduce Lady Chamberlain to Elizabeth. "Lord Chamberlain is involved in the management of the theater. I have been good friends with Lady Chamberlain for many years now."

Lady Matlock noted her introspective behavior and gave her a questioning glance, which prompted Elizabeth to visibly rally her spirits before she said, "I am pleased to make your acquaintance. I have enjoyed the performance very much."

Lady Chamberlain nodded, "That is good. I am glad to finally meet you, Miss Bennet. I have heard of you."

Elizabeth blushed, thinking of the conversation she overheard earlier and averted her eyes, "I do hope you have had a positive report." Lady Chamberlain laughed and said something witty declaring that they might be good friends.

Darcy noticed Elizabeth's reticence and frowned, he was certain that something had happened to make her confidence slip. He had never known her to be cowed; the idea angered him and caused him feel more protective of Elizabeth.

"I should return to Lord Chamberlain before too long. I do hope we should have more time to speak at the Torrington Ball?"

Elizabeth nodded, "I would like that very much."

The rest of the conversation was of no consequence and before long it was time to return to their seats. Elizabeth barely acknowledged her relations before taking her seat, lost in her thoughts. She had known that she would be a source of gossip, being that she was the daughter of an inconsequential country gentleman and engaged to marry a fashionable, wealthy gentleman with a large estate and prominent family, she thought bitterly. The possibility of being a source of gossip was a different matter from actually knowing that she was indeed being talked about—and in such an unflattering way! Even worse was the speculation between her intimate relationship with her betrothed and, in turn, his relationship with a mistress… or future mistress?

Elizabeth was not cognizant of what the talk entailed exactly, but knew that her heart would break if her Fitzwilliam ever turned from her to seek the comfort of another woman.

Darcy was annoyed by the crowd and his inability to comfort his beloved. What, or whom, had altered her mood so completely? He dearly wished to freeze time, allowing them time to converse so he might find the cause, then comfort and assure her that she is not alone.

The lights were extinguished and the curtain rose. Everyone's attention was arrested by the actors on stage, with the exception of Elizabeth's and Darcy's. He heard her sigh and noticed her distant expression. He carefully gathered her hand in both of his to attract her attention and slowly, deliberately bestowed a kiss to her hand, her palm and her wrist. His ministrations had the desired effect and her countenance softened.

In the darkened theater they had some measure of privacy, though the Gardiners and Mrs. Bennet were seated behind them and could easily watch their interactions if they chose to do so. Darcy could not lead her out of the room to find privacy, even though he desired to do so, he would have to content himself with loving gazes to reassure his beloved. Elizabeth understood and sighed again before leaning into Darcy to rest her head on his shoulder.

He welcomed her nestling weight and continued to hold her hand during the performance. At one point they threaded their fingers together to lovingly stroke palms, imagining that they caressed bare skin rather than gloved hands. Before the tapers were relit and the curtain fell, Darcy kissed Elizabeth's temple and whispered, "You alone own my heart." He could not have known that he had said what she most needed to hear.

Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner had noticed the affectionate display Darcy and Elizabeth had exhibited during the last act of the Opera. Since there were no rules of propriety broken once the lights were on, they both wisely chose to ignore the episode. Mrs. Gardiner had noticed Elizabeth's withdrawal from her surroundings and was glad to see that Darcy's attention seemed to restore Elizabeth's mettle.

The evidence was in Elizabeth's teasing manner to Darcy, "I do hope so, for I have no intention of relinquishing it. I vow to nurture it, if you will do the same."

Mrs. Bennet leaned forward toward her daughters and said, "The ending was so confusing and rather vexing. It is well that you girls have chosen gentlemen who will not trifle with you!"

Elizabeth had nothing to say because she had missed a great deal of the ending lost, as she was, in her own thoughts. She did smile and let her sister's soft laugh ring in agreement.

The group was met in the hall by the Earl and Countess. Lady Matlock smirked at her nephew when she noticed Elizabeth's recovered attitude, which Darcy naturally chose not to acknowledge.

Lady Matlock had discussed morning calls with Elizabeth several days before at her dinner party and chose to bring the subject up again, this time employing another tactic. "Mrs. Gardiner, I am expecting several calls on the morrow. I was hoping that you could spare your lovely nieces and allow them to join me at my home, granted that Mrs. Bennet agrees, of course."

Elizabeth raised a brow at her future Aunt but the Lady was not looking at her.

Mrs. Gardiner considered her nieces and agreed that it was a good idea. "Lizzy, it will give you an opportunity to make new friends. The girls have no plans in the morning or early afternoon, though I would prefer it if they did not travel across town unchaperoned."

Darcy had been listening and his esteem of Mrs. Gardiner escalated with her statement. He briefly went through his morning plans before speaking in approval of the arrangement. "Do not fear, Mrs. Gardiner. I shall send a carriage with Mrs. Annesley to escort Elizabeth and Miss Bennet." He turned to Elizabeth, "I should like Mrs. Annesley to be of use to you. I have an appointment in the morning, but will spend the rest of the day with Georgiana. It has been some time since I have spent time with her, and with the wedding so close, I am not certain how much time we shall have together."

Elizabeth saw the wisdom in the scheme and approved that Darcy wished to spend time with his sister. "That is very sensible of you. I approve and I daresay that Georgiana will value your attention. Though, I must say that your Aunt does not give up."

He smiled at her, "No, I am afraid she is rather persistent."

Elizabeth laughed lightly, "I see it runs in the family." Her tone and inclusion in his family made his eyes shine.

The Earl interrupted the conversation with a good-natured chuckle, "Darcy, shall we escort the ladies down so that our carriages are not waiting too long? What do you intend to do with your sister while she escapes the dreary calls?"

Darcy replied shortly and offered Elizabeth his arm to lead her with his relations down the grand stairs. They waited in the foyer until a footman appeared to indicate to that group that the carriages were parked and ready to be boarded. The ladies did not notice the footman, since they were engaged in conversation, agreeing to meet at the Matlock's townhouse in the morning for a late breakfast before calls. Mrs. Bennet beamed at the Countess in admiration, grateful that her daughters were to enjoy and benefit from such superior society.

A word to Bingley ensured that Darcy was able to sit by his betrothed and Bingley next to Jane in the carriage. The ladies were a little surprised, but not unhappy with the arrangement. Darcy tried to find out the cause of her earlier discomfort to no avail.

Elizabeth simply replied, "It does not signify and I am loathe to discuss it when the evening should end on a pleasant note. There will be an opportunity to talk of it another time. Fitzwilliam, I am sorry that you did not enjoy the Opera, as you ought."

Darcy waved away her concern. "I enjoyed having you by my side. I should like to take you to the theater often if you enjoy it, as you seemed to, during the first act."

Elizabeth smiled liking the idea and feeling his love for her, "I am sure that I shall never forget it."

AN: So, no Miss Bingley, and yet her disappointment still stunk up the Opera. ;)

I had so many ideas of what should happen during the break in the Opera, but chose to make it simple since there is not a long stretch of time.

Please comment with your thoughts and ideas for Darcy's time with Georgiana and Lady Matlocks time with Elizabeth & Jane!