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A Wicked, White Cravat
by Anton M.

Chapter 16: His Cravat

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Elizabeth's family's stay at the Darcy townhouse did not cause half as much worry or ridicule as Elizabeth had feared, and she even had to admit to finding their presence enjoyable (although tiring). The Bennets and the Darcys called on the Gardiners multiple times, they visited dressmakers and bakers, they had luncheons and dinners. When Mr. Bennet found it all too much, he now had a library to retreat to, and his presence was welcome even when Darcy and Elizabeth sat by the fireplace, discussing estate matters.

Lydia and Georgiana spent their days together with their companions, and their schedule for improving their skills and mind were so new and exhaustive for Lydia that she barely spoke during dinners and often retired early. Once her energy was spent on practicing her singing, learning the piano, découpage and drawing, there was not much of it left to sulk for too long or even cause mischief. Kitty and Mary often joined the two girls in their endeavours, and their time together was enjoyed by all and passed quickly.

The entire family spent so much time in each other's company that Georgiana struggled to find time for a private audience with her new sister until she found Elizabeth alone in the library on the last Saturday of January. She was reading a letter in front of the fireplace, and Georgiana shut the door after herself, hesitating.

"Am I interrupting?"

"Georgie! Not at all," Elizabeth answered, setting aside her letter. "I have read this letter many times. Come, join me. Is anything the matter?"

Georgiana sat on the armchair opposite the couch Elizabeth was sitting on, and looked at her hands in her lap. She had made up her mind to reveal her secret to Elizabeth, but doing so required more courage than she had thought.

"Georgie," Elizabeth said, softly, sitting closer to her. "Did something happen?"

Georgiana paused. "Is your good opinion, once lost, lost forever?"

"I remember asking you this very question." Elizabeth smiled. "No. I admire and love your brother very much, but I am more lenient in this matter. Mistakes can be made by everyone, and we all sometimes require forgiveness for them."

Georgiana, still staring at her hands and voice barely above a whisper, detailed the story of her loss of virtue and her culpability on the matter, and when she was done, Elizabeth stared at her in silence.

"Please, say something," Georgiana finally said, fearing her silence more than her censure.

"My dear Georgie," Elizabeth whispered, taking her hands and pulling her to stand before she hugged the girl. Her hug was tight and full of love, and Georgiana melted into it.

"I am a bad influence on your sisters," she whispered. "I can see how everyone believes Lydia to be in a position to bring censure and ridicule to the family, but truly, it is me."

"Oh, Georgie," Elizabeth said, pulling back and taking her shoulders in her hands. "It is not as simple as that. I admire that you take responsibility for your actions, but you are not yet sixteen. Any gentleman worth your time would have insisted on waiting, regardless of your wishes."

"But does that not make me foolish, to have believed in his honour while also intending to elope in the knowledge that we would inform my brother after our wedding of our marriage? Had I any sense, I would have recognised that he was not the man I believed him to be."

"Love is rarely as straight-forward as any of us would wish it to be."

"Am I not to marry?"

Elizabeth took a breath. "Only time will tell."

"I would deserve it."

"Do not be so hard on yourself. I cannot judge you if you choose to keep this to yourself until it matters, or if you choose to take it to your grave. It is a choice only you can make."

Georgiana hugged her sister once more. "Thank you."

"Thank you for trusting me with this. I hope that, with time, you can forgive yourself as well."

A few hours later, after Elizabeth had had a bath and her lady's maid had braided her hair, she entered her husband's bedroom and leaned against the door, sighing. Darcy put down The Times and looked at his wife. She need not have said anything for the events of the evening were written all over her face.

"She told you," Darcy said.

Elizabeth nodded. She hoped that she had appeared unaffected by the news, just as she hoped that her words reassured her sister rather than scared her, but Elizabeth was shaken. She could not focus on anything else for the day for her thoughts were with Georgiana and the pain she was still going through.

"That night you came to me," Elizabeth whispered. "It was this, was it not?"

Darcy nodded, and Elizabeth sat on her knees in front of him. She had never thought Georgiana to be capable of such a thing, but her own virtue had been threatened too many times not to feel sorry for the choices Georgiana had made. The situations were different, but the outcome would have been the same.

"I admit I am shaken by this news."

"I would be surprised if you were not," Darcy answered, pulling Elizabeth to sit by his side and wrapping his arm around her shoulder. She leaned against him, humming.

"It could have been us," she whispered. "In a different world, it could have been us. All that is needed for this to happen is a sure expectation of a wedding and an interruption to those plans. It could have been us."

Darcy had had more than a month to think about his sister's revelation.

"I know," he said, kissing her hair. "I know."

"I do not know how to help her," Elizabeth said. "It may be better if she never speaks of it again to a single soul, but it is, also, unfair to any gentleman she may consider marrying. It is a wretched world out there for a woman whose virtue is lost. Are you worried that she will bring ruin on the Darcy name?"

"I have thought of it, but I do not think anyone would believe these rumours if it was Wickham himself who spread them. Georgiana looks as innocent as ever, she has impeccable manners, and her dowry is such that any rumour would be believed to be borne of envy. No, I am not too worried on that front."

"But you are worried."

"Yes," he replied. "It cannot be helped, I fear. Only time will tell how her future plays out. We cannot keep her from society all her life, and she should not be made to suffer more than her own guilt has caused it. But I do believe, if she is open to a more unconventional match, there are kind gentlemen in this world, and she need not be kept from a love marriage, or, indeed, the children that follow."

Elizabeth rested her knees against her husband's lap, and they discussed matters of smaller weight until Elizabeth fell asleep against her husband. Darcy lifted her under the duvet before he kissed her hair, wrapped her in his arms, and fell asleep.

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The entire family was invited to a ball on Sunday evening near Grosvenor Square by the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, Frances and Henry Beresford, and Elizabeth felt nervous enough for Darcy to notice it when he entered her room in search of his favourite cravat.

He found it crinkled under Elizabeth's pillow, and blushed deeply when Miss Crauford witnessed him attempting to hide it in his pocket. He requested a private audience with his wife, and her lady's maid curtsied before leaving.

Darcy squeezed Elizabeth's shoulders, admiring her in the mirror, and kissed the top of her head. Elizabeth took his hand and held it against her chest, smiling at his reflection.

"You have nothing to worry about. It's the right decision to introduce your family to the ton."

"I did not know my emotions were so visible." Elizabeth took a slow breath. "I agree. I simply fear for what my mother could say or do after a wine or two."

"It is not within our control, but for what it is worth, I do not think your sisters and parents have ever been in a better position to behave appropriate to your new station."

She stood up, and Darcy took in her beauty, the white dress that complimented her figure, her many curls, and, of course, her eyes. She stared at his chest hair peeking out from under his shirt in the absence of a cravat, and Darcy pressed a kiss in front of her ear.

"You are beautiful."

Elizabeth smiled, lifting herself on her tiptoes to kiss her husband, and squeezed his hand. "Thank you. But let us allow your valet to dress you appropriately."

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Darcy witnessed, in amazement, how Elizabeth guided her family through introductions, making light-hearted comments where appropriate, asking about family members Darcy had never cared about, and when they appeared in front of the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, all curtsied or bowed with appropriate gravitas.

"His Grace, the Most Noble Duke of Suffolk, and his wife, Her Grace, the Most Noble Duchess of Suffolk," Elizabeth said. "These are my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, of Hertfordshire, my sisters Miss Bennet and Miss Catherine Bennet, and my new brother Mr. Bingley with my sister, Mrs. Bingley."

The sisters were stunned enough to talk barely above a whisper as they shared mandatory pleasantries, but their awe grew a thousandfold when the Duchess of Suffolk stepped away from her husband, smiled, and put her arm through Elizabeth's.

"Please excuse us for just a moment," she said, "I have an important matter to discuss with Lizzie. We shall return shortly."

Darcy observed the barely disguised awe of Elizabeth's family, and Darcy would have felt the same had he not witnessed Elizabeth among the ton for a month and a half. Elizabeth's strongest quality, her love of sharing opinions and discussing matters with people of any station, coupled with the courage that rose to the occasion, had caused her to form most valuable friendships with people whom Darcy had barely considered acquaintances prior to his marriage to her.

It took a certain amount of audacity to deliver oneself so freely among those of higher station that one could form true friendships with them, but then again, Elizabeth would not have kissed Darcy on that fateful day if she lacked the trait.

"Do you remain worried about her connections?" Mr. Bingley asked, quietly, with a smile in his eyes.

Darcy could not help but laugh.

"I deserve your judgement," he replied. "I do not think I ever paid half as much attention to any of these people prior to having Elizabeth by my side. I admit I wrote them all off as puppets of social protocol as I do not have the talent to converse easily with strangers."

"Nor I," Mr. Bennet said, still admiring his daughter as the two women whispered in the corner of the ballroom. "However… I dare say your connections, true connections, of challenging the mind and having discussions of value, have improved since your marriage."

"You are correct," Darcy replied. He had never enjoyed his time among the ton, but with Elizabeth by his side, with her discerning eyes and a talent for connecting with newly formed acquaintances, he had met and shared thoughts with many a gentleman he had previously written off as dreadful bores. During their first weeks among the ton, he had to admit to and face his prejudice, and although neither he nor Elizabeth liked even half of the people among the ton, there were true gems found within the crowd.

Mrs. Bennet, far from causing ridicule, sat by a small table as she witnessed her daughter sharing quiet words with a Duchess. Her awe knew no bounds. Still shook by the events that kept her as the Mistress of Longbourn for as long as she lived, she did not even have the presence of mind to express her joy over her daughters being thrown in the way of rich, well-connected gentlemen. The prospect of keeping Longbourn forever meant that the marriages of her daughters, however important, would not be the only way forward, should any of them fail to find a husband, and the pressure that she had felt for two and twenty years, ever since Jane's birth, was taken off her chest, and she could not yet truly comprehend the consequences herself. She was so overwhelmed with it all that she spent most of the night observing her daughters, smiling at her husband, and enjoying delicacies she had never seen before.

A good time was had by all until a figure, a familiar figure, appeared on the doorstep, earning the appropriate curtsies and nods from the people nearby.

Darcy and Elizabeth had not discussed what they would do if such an occasion were to arise — neither of them thought Lady Catherine to be audacious enough to show up to a ball in London like this, nor had either of them shared any details of their dealings with Lady Catherine with the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk.

But they now knew each other well enough that when their eyes locked, the course of action was clear. Elizabeth did not curtsy. Darcy did not bow. Together, in unison and in full view of the ton, they turned around, took each other's arms, and walked out of the ballroom. Their quiet but unmistakeable rebuke was so striking that the acquaintances of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy gaped as few had ever seen such a snub in public, and especially by Mr. Darcy, who was seen to hold family honour above all else.

The Bingleys walked after the Darcys, and the Bennet sisters followed. None glanced at the woman.

Lady Catherine appeared to be in shock by the presence of the Bennet family at the ball, and opened and shut her mouth, but no words came out. Mr. Bennet joined his wife by the tables, but Mrs. Bennet, far from ignoring the woman, walked up to her and used Lady Catherine's momentary confusion to slap the woman across her face, one final time, in full view of the ton.

"How dare you show your face here."

Head held high, she took her husbands arm and, together, they rushed after their family. The silence that followed them was deafening, and everyone's pace quickened as they heard Lady Catherine's footsteps behind them.

"There must've been a— misunderstanding," Lady Catherine said, pretending innocence, but her her voice, calling after them, gave Elizabeth goosebumps. Their pace quickened, but before any of the family had found a way to the street, they were pulled into a room.

The door barely made a sound as the Duchess of Suffolk shut the door after herself. Together, they heard Darcy's aunt pass, and Elizabeth only dared make a sound with her breathing when they had stood by the door, in silence, for several minutes.

"We beg your forgiveness, Frances," Elizabeth whispered. "Our scruples are not with you nor with your husband, and you could not have known our feelings on the matter."

"Indeed I did not," the Duchess replied, looking back and forth between Elizabeth, Darcy, and glancing at the rest of her family. "Only tell me this — what she did, is it unforgivable beyond redemption?"

Elizabeth hesitated. "What I will share I only share as your closest confidante. Her attempts to arrange harm to my person are of the same nature as what your acquaintance, The Honourable Charles Camden, did to your laundry maid Susan. She did not succeed, but her intention to prevent my marriage to William by causing harm of that nature was undeniable."

The Duchess blinked at the unexpected friend she'd made, unwilling to believe her but knowing without a doubt that Elizabeth was telling the truth. Her husband's long-time acquaintance with Mr. Darcy proved anything else to be impossible.

She looked at them with intensity that made Elizabeth match her gaze. The Duchess took Elizabeth's hands in hers.

"She will never be accepted in London again," she said. "I will make sure of that. She will not set foot in any self-respecting drawing room in London."

Elizabeth, overwhelmed by her new friend's support, pulled her into a hug, and the familiarity caused the rest of her family to watch them in silent awe.

"Please send our apologies to the Duke and anyone with whom we had plans," Darcy said.

The Duchess curtsied. "I shall ensure that she is gone when you leave. Please await for my return."

Darcy bowed at the Duchess, and the rest of the family followed suit. Once the Duchess had made sure that Lady Catherine was sent away, the Bennets, the Bingleys and the Darcys left the ball.

It was only an hour past midnight as they entered their carriages and rode home. Darcy slid his hand in Elizabeth's lap in the darkness, and she squeezed it most gratefully. Nobody said a word.

After Elizabeth had joined her husband in his bedroom, they lay on his bed, side by side, observing each other in the light of the fireplace and holding hands.

"I imagine she thought that we would be forced to be polite to her if she showed up in a ballroom full of people," Darcy said. "But I admit that your mother is growing on me."

Elizabeth laughed, for they had both, looking back at the ballroom, seen her slap and her comment.

"Do you think Lady Catherine will show up on our doorstep?" Elizabeth asked.

"She would be a fool to think we would accept her."

She hesitated.

"Are we too hard on her?"

"Elizabeth." His face was full of horror. "Please consider the consequences of her actions had she succeeded."

"I do not disagree," she replied. "But I cannot help but feel sorry for her."

"Two things can be true at the same time," Darcy said. "You can deny your forgiveness while feeling sorry for her, but her decisions were hers to make, hers alone, and there is not a word or a gift in the world that would make me consider forgiving her or even listening to her apologies."

Elizabeth kissed his knuckles.

"I hope Frances does not suffer the consequences of our actions too deeply."

"They are a reasonable couple. They shall understand the necessity of what we did."

Darcy ran his fingers over her hair, not willing to spend the night discussing his aunt.

"Three gentlemen asked me if your sister Catherine was spoken for," Darcy said, smiling.

"I am not too surprised," Elizabeth replied, grateful for the change of topic. "Forgive me for saying this, but there is often a degree of calculation among the women of the ton that my sisters and I never learned."

"I need not forgive you for your words, for I agree. My ten years of bachelorhood among the ton, as you know, ended with me marrying you, and I am convinced it is not a choice I shall ever regret."

He kissed her palm and kept her hand close to his lips.

"Mary received an inquiry of a similar nature. I have spoken to your father, and he will talk to your sisters to determine if they are interested in continuing any acquaintances." He paused. "If it is not too delicate a matter, may I ask what the Duchess wished to discuss with you?"

Elizabeth smiled, kissing his knuckles. "Frances is with child. She is worried that her husband will be upset by the news."

"Upset?" he repeated. "That is not possible. It was only last Tuesday when I heard the Duke express his frustration at not having sired an heir after two years. Why does she think he would be upset?"

"They have never discussed children."

"You are jesting."

"Not at all." Elizabeth laughed at his face. "It is not uncommon, I see, especially among those of higher station. The more I get to know the people among the ton, the more I see how much the social protocol stifles any discussion worth having, and especially the delicate ones. But I am glad, for that means that my advice to her was reasonable."

"What was your advice?"

"It was of a most scandalous nature," Elizabeth replied, mirth in her eyes. "I dare not speak of it."

Darcy raised his eyebrows before he started tickling his wife, and when she was begging for him to stop as she twisted under him, he stopped and wiped hair away from her face.

"I told her to talk to him," Elizabeth admitted, and Darcy laughed against the crook of her neck.

"Your audacity knows no bounds," he whispered before he started pressing tender kisses against her skin, and no further discussions were had as their interest was engaged by more pleasing activities.

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The Bennets returned to Hertfordshire with a new peace of mind. Potential suitors for Mary and Kitty had promised to visit Mr. Bingley at Netherfield in the summertime, and Lydia sullenly accepted the strictness of her parents and Mrs. O'Doyle's presence in her life with no suitors yet in sight.

Elizabeth continued to sew and embroider cravats for her husband, and her skills improved with practice. Her experience overseeing the household of the Darcy townhouse allowed her to transition to her role as the Mistress of Pemberley most admirably, and her awe at their new home was only equalled by Darcy's joy in seeing it. Their evenings passed in each other's company, managing the estate, listening to Georgiana play the piano, and discussing matters of science and politics with the friends Elizabeth had made during their stay in London.

Pemberley had not seen such a social scene for decades, since before Darcy's mother fell ill. Although Darcy's personal preference leaned towards spending his evenings in the quiet of his library with his lovely wife, he enjoyed the discussions with his family and friends that resulted from the gatherings, and he particularly relished his wife challenging him with her eyes and words.

Elizabeth took great joy in embroidering the cravats she sewed him, especially the little messages she could fit on the side. Darcy usually discovered them by accident. Her second cravat said, 'I miss you dearly. Love, E.D.' and Darcy did not hold back his emotions after being the recipient of such a lovely message. Her impertinence ensured that he discovered some longer passages as well, such as 'If you think that Koenig's invention will not greatly transform the world, you are sorely mistaken. Yours, E.D.', a message so long it had to be written around his cravat, and 'Did I not predict Humphry Davy's fate? With love, E.D.'

He did not feel worthy of a life filled with so much love and support, but he worked hard to never forget to show Elizabeth how dear to him she was.

On a foggy summer evening on a Sunday, July 5, Darcy had stayed away from his wife for nearly a week because she needed to manage the estate while he handled some investment issues in London. Since their wedding, he had never stayed away from his wife for so long, and he felt her absence most acutely. It was then, sitting in a dusty inn, the evening before his return, that he remembered her little messages.

Impatiently, he tore off the cravat and stepped close to the window to see which one he'd worn this time.

Our first olive-branch and I eagerly await your return. Love always, E.D.

Heart beating wildly in his chest, he ran downstairs to the innkeeper and demanded a horse with a saddle for whatever price needed, and by the time his valet, Mr. Sculthorpe, and his coachman, Mr. Neil, understood what their master intended to do, Darcy already had a saddled horse ready. He looked peculiar to them, clearly in a rush but almost awe-struck, eyes wild with some unnamed emotion and words coming out in a rush.

"Your night has been paid for," he said, jumping on the horse. "I must return to Elizabeth. My apologies."

He cued the horse forward and sped to a gallop. With a carriage, it would have taken him seven hours to reach home. With a horse, he knew which shortcuts to take, and he could shorten it to four, maybe even three hours. The slight fog would have hindered his mission had he not known the area around his home as well as he did.

It was half past midnight when he instructed his startled guard to take generous care of the horse he'd borrowed. Letting go of the reins, he realised he was still holding her cravat, and he pressed it against his chest as he entered the house and rushed to her room. He was panting. Taking a few breaths, he quietly opened her door and walked over to her bed, but it was untouched.

Was she sick?

Worried but wanting to rid himself of his coat, he opened the door to his room, intending to throw his coat on the chair and go look for his wife, but the fireplace lit up the room, and Elizabeth was sleeping on his side of the bed.

Quietly, he shut the door, and never had he undressed faster than tonight, when all his clothes ended up in a heap on the carpet before he lifted the duvet and slid beside his wife. He wiped away her hair before resting his head on the pillow beside hers. Caressing her side, he smiled, not knowing how to express the strength of his emotions but unwilling to wake his sleeping wife, peaceful and beautiful and entirely too good for him.

Elizabeth stirred, taking a slow breath as she opened her eyes, and she sat up faster than he could react.

"William! Is anything the matter?"

"Elizabeth," he whispered, pulling her down beside him.

"You were not supposed to be here until tomorrow noon! When did you get here? Have you been here for long?"

"Only a few minutes," he replied.

"You are panting," she said, cupping his face. Her eyes lingered on his lips, and he needed no further incentive to press his lips against hers. God, he'd missed her. He relished her warmth and breath and love, entirely his, and rested his elbows on either side of her head as he took her in.

"Why are you here?" she asked, incredulous but happy, and then, suddenly, remembered that she was using his room without his permission. "I apologise for sleeping here. I found that — I missed you."

His eyes were afire with love. "You need not ask. I missed you entirely too much for my own good."

He dipped his head to capture her lips in his, but, in spite of his panting, he found he could not stifle his grin. He brushed his thumbs against her cheeks, touching her soft skin, admiring her twinkling eyes and loving her soft smile. Elizabeth, noticing the tender awe in his eyes and his inability to stop smiling, squeezed him against her.

"You found my newest cravat," she whispered, smiling.

"I did," he confirmed and set it on the pillow beside them after he realised that he was still gripping it. His breath warmed her skin, and he whispered close to her ear, "I shall frame it." He pulled back, and his gaze was adoring and smile tender. "I cannot believe it."

"Nor I."

"How far are you?"

"Just shy of three months, now."


"Yes," she replied, biting her lips as she smiled. "I gave you this cravat for a shorter trip you had at the end of May. I had started to fear that you would notice my growing before you had seen my gift to you."

He laughed against her neck, and he felt entirely too delighted by her news to be frustrated by his slowness. From now on, he vowed to read her embroidery on each cravat that he put on, each morning, not to miss any secret messages by his lovely, precious wife.

"And you are healthy?"

"The doctor was here not three days ago," she replied. "All is as it should be."

Darcy ran his fingertips over her forehead, eyes lingering on hers, and pressed his lips against hers once more. The depth of his emotion could not be expressed in words, and Elizabeth hummed in his arms, feeling adored and entirely too happy with his method of showing it.

The End.

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