“But the house is haunted!” Elizabeth exclaimed.
Lord Darcy’s lips thinned. “It is unbecoming for the Mistress of Pemberley to listen to servants’ waggling tongues. Your time would be better spent learning to become a lady, and” he glared at her from head to toe, “improving your appearance!” Then he turned on his heels and left the library.
Sitting rigid on the chair, Elizabeth’s mouth gaped open, her reply left unsaid. With that for company, she couldn’t be blamed for seeking solace below stairs, although that was not in fact her source. Picking up the book “Good Manners for a Lady” hidden in the pile by her side, she flung it to the door.
As the loud echo died away, she made up her mind. They were both unhappy that her scheming relatives had forced this marriage, but she would not allow her cold husband of two months to intimidate her. It wasn’t enough that he refused to listen to her. Now he criticised her hair and clothes, and to top it all he’d cruelly accepted an invitation for them both to stay at the home of Mrs. Grey, his mistress. But she knew the perfect revenge.
She pulled the bell to summon a maid. “Pray ask the housekeeper to send for the French modiste from London. I need some new gowns for our visit to Netherfield and I have little time.” Until now Elizabeth had refrained from spending her husband’s allowance. But as of this moment she had no hesitation.
Three weeks later, sitting in the Crimson Bedchamber at Netherfield, the estate of Mr. Bingley, her husband’s good friend, she regretted spending a fortune of Lord Darcy’s money on expensive dresses. The new collection was a disaster. Elizabeth was comfortable in the simple grey and brown dresses given to her by her aunt. But the modiste had had other ideas and insisted on using exquisite burgundy, emerald and gold silks, all acquired from the new fashionable shops of Mayfair. The cost must be preposterous. Indeed, had it not been her husband’s presence, Elizabeth would have dismissed the exasperating French woman and her new fashions back to London forthwith.
She could not fathom why Lord Darcy had taken a sudden interest in her wardrobe. Was he afraid she might shame him in front of his mistress? Is this why he’d agreed to the modiste’s expensive advice? Several gowns of vibrant colours, many of them with daring décolleté and clinging shape, had been created. And to complement them, her chamber maid had been instructed by the French woman to update Elizabeth’s hair to reflect the newer more classical style, adorned with simple ringlets.
“I must admit,” she said to herself, staring at the looking glass, “I know I look different, but I feel different too.” She passed her hand down the waist and felt the curve.
Her new appearance also seemed to draw particular interest from her husband. When, at his request, she had modelled the new outfits three days ago, he had examined her with a peculiar intensity. His demeanour towards her also changed. He had talked to her when they ate, stayed with her after dinner and had asked her to play the fortepiano. He’d even wished her a good night outside her bedchamber. She couldn’t help comparing this with the first two months of their marriage, marked by his absences on businesses and by his indifference when in residence at Pemberley.
The beautiful widow Mrs. Grey, Charles Bingley’s elder sister, kept house at Netherfield and looked after their younger sister Miss Lydia. She had welcomed Lord and Lady Darcy graciously on their arrival with smart society’s most recent invention, afternoon tea. Afterwards, she had explained the problem about the sleeping arrangements. Due to an unfortunate accident during the recent storms, the Crimson Room’s connecting chamber, laid aside for the wives of visiting gentry, was uninhabitable. But they were not to worry. She had prepared a separate room for Elizabeth at the far end of the main landing. Elizabeth was privately delighted, it suiting her well to be as far as possible from her husband. She didn’t even mind about the hostess’s real motive for doing this; gossip had long circulated both below and above stairs about Mrs. Grey’s ambitions to remarry, her target having been her lover, Lord Darcy.
But to Elizabeth’s surprise, her husband suddenly spoke up. “There is no need for another room. Lady Darcy and I can stay together.” Elizabeth nearly choked on her tea. Since their wedding he had shown no desire for pursuing his conjugal rights. Yet now he wanted to share his bed with her, and in a room close to that of his mistress!
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