A Game of Chance
This is a story about loss. This is a story about pain. But it is also a story about hope, about faith, and about life. We all have lived through events like this, whether we realise it or not. Death is an integral part of our lives; that we cannot change. What this story takes a look at, though, is the different aspects of death, and the different ways people react to it. I will not dress it up; death is stark and irrevocable. This story will be realistic, and I apologise if it becomes too dark. This is a change from my normal story "type," but I must be allowed my whims, I suppose. The story will not be long, but for me, it is long enough. And so, with no further ado, I present
Though he was the only one in the room who had not risen and rushed forward, seeking answers to eager and anxious inquiries, the doctor felt that he was the man to be addressed. "Mr. Darcy," the doctor said with slow and painful deliberation, his deep tones echoing in the sudden, aching silence. "I am unsure what to say."
"The truth will do," came the unflinching reply.
The doctor sighed. This was the hardest part of his job: to crush the hopes of loved ones. "I am sorry, Mr. Darcy. There is nothing more that I can do for your wife. We must leave it in God's hands now."
After a brief, horrible, painful pause, the whole room was suddenly filled with sobbing and fainting women, men comforting their wives, even a few wiping away, unabashedly, tears of their own. But the doctor watched only Mr. Darcy, whose mask remained immovable and implacable. Only a slightly throbbing muscle in his jaw indicated his tremendous inner turmoil.
"May I see my wife?"
The doctor barely heard the query over the din in the room, the soft tones broken by a slight crack in the voice. He nodded and gestured towards the door. Mr. Darcy rose slowly and eased his way out of the room. When the door closed behind them both, muffling, but not shutting out the sounds of anguish within, the doctor looked at his patient's husband. Mr. Darcy stood immobile for a moment, gazing blindly at the stairs before him, before taking a few unsteady steps. He then paused again and turned to the doctor, who waited patiently behind him. "Do you have any hope?" he asked, his eyes betraying the emotions that broiled deep within him.
The doctor paused, unsure of what to say, but before he could formulate an answer, Mr. Darcy shook his head and held up his hand. "That's all I wanted. Thank you very much, sir. If you would speak to my man of affairs, he will give you your due."
He then turned with a short bow and proceeded to walk up the stairs. The doctor stood below, watching the proud man walk up the stairs, his back straight, his muscles rigid. He sighed sadly, recognising the heartbreak written in the man's very posture, not to mention the hopelessness in his eyes. But he could do nothing more. So, looking away from the painful scene, he proceeded to the office of the man of affairs, his heart heavy.
The door creaked open slowly beneath his hand. He paused before pushing it open the rest of the way, willing himself to be in command of his emotions. But the moment the door was open, and he saw his wife lying on the bed, her hair spread around her in a dark cloud, her face wan and pale, her eyes closed, her hands on the coverlet beside her, he broke down. He collapsed there, in the doorway, not caring who saw him. He couldn't control it any longer. He knelt there on the floor, his head between his hands, sobbing. The tears flowed freely as he felt the pain congeal in his heart.
When the tears had finally dried themselves, he looked up at the sight of his wife, so small in the large bed, and went to her. He picked up her hand and held it in his much larger one. He felt its coldness, its limpness, its frailty. He laid it against his cheek and felt himself begin to weep again. As he laid his head down on the bed, his hands still clutching hers he realised that he couldn't let go. What if by letting go, he lost her forever?
Jane Bingley looked through the doorway at the tender scene within. She closed her eyes briefly, holding the threatening tears back, then left her brother-in-law and her sister to themselves. She couldn't bear to see much more pain. She felt as though the hopelessness of it all would claim her, too, but she refused to give up her faith.
She walked down the hall and up the stairs to where the nursery was. She looked through the door to find Mrs. Fields, the nanny, holding the child, pacing back and forth across the room. She looked up when Jane entered the room, surprised at the intrusion. She began to ask a question, but at the sight of Jane's expression, her face filled with incredible sadness, and tears began to slide down her worn cheeks. "What about the child?" she asked softly.
Jane shook her head. "Lizzy is not gone yet. She still has a chance. I think she will make it."
"And the doctor?"
Jane looked away, her eyes filling with tears. "He...he tells us that it is in God's hands now."
Mrs. Fields made the sign of the cross. "May He be good. We shall need a miracle."
"Pray for it," Jane said softly, and reached out to take her young nephew. Mrs. Fields relinquished her burden, and with a gentle hand on Jane's arm, murmured: "Never lose hope, my dear. None of us shall."
Jane smiled sadly, and watched the nanny leave the room. She then turned to her young nephew. "How are you, young Fitzwilliam?" She smiled as the baby gurgled and reached out for his aunt. She pulled him close to her and held him there, tears falling down her face. What if this child of her sister's was never able to know the beautiful woman that was his mother?
She shook her head at such thoughts, trying to force them onto happier scenes. She pictured them all running and playing in the sunshine, Will grown up and merry, a few other children running about him. But as she looked around at this happy scene of her imagination, she suddenly realised that one person was missing.
Jane spun around towards the doorway. Her husband Charles stood with his hand braced on the doorway. "Have you seen her?"
She looked away briefly. "Darcy is with her."
Charles walked into the room, and wrapped his arms about his wife's waist from the back, and laid his chin on her shoulder. "She will be fine, my dear. I have faith she will improve."
"Do you?" Jane's voice was tremulously thin.
Charles' arms tightened. "Yes, I do. But love, we must keep Darcy with us. We cannot let him lose faith. Ever." He sighed deeply. "I worry about him. He tries to hold it all in, as if keeping it all inside of him, never showing anyone how much he hurts, will somehow make it all go away. The only thing he is doing is hurting himself more. I worry."
Jane nodded. "I worry about him, too. What happens if she does die?" Charles tried to hush her, but she shook her head. "No. No matter how painful the possibility, we must acknowledge that it is a possibility. What happens to Will if she dies? Could Darcy possibly take care of him? I think it would be only more painful, to see this child of Lizzy's, a remainder of what he had lost."
"Darcy is stronger than that, Jane. I think he would never push away Will, regardless of the memories attached. He loves Lizzy, and would only love Will all the more. Elizabeth's memories would augment his love, not stifle it."
Jane turned her head and kissed her husband's cheek. "I guess you are right, my love. But I trust...I believe that our worrying will come to naught. She will recover. I am counting on it."
"Come," Charles said softly. "Let us take Will back to his cradle. Look: he has fallen asleep in your loving arms. We shall let him rest in peace for now."
Jane nodded, and Charles took the sleeping child from her arms and walked through the doorway to the room where Will's cradle sat, its beautiful wooden markings testament to the generations that had slept there before.
Mr. Bennet sat in the library, drinking some of his son-in-law's brandy, and trying his best to concentrate on the book before him. But his thoughts continually strayed to the room, somewhere on the floor above him, where his daughter lay, her eyes closed, her life so close to slipping away. And every time he thought of her, he offered up a prayer that she would recover. But his faith was weak. Only the strength of his love for his daughter kept him holding on to that slight thread the doctor had offered: that it was in God's hands.
But what had God done for him? What had God ever done for Henry Bennet, except give him that one child whose life was now slipping away from him? He had given him many trials...his wife, his other daughters, economy, death. The trials had been many, the blessings few. And now one of those few blessings was turning into yet another curse. He was losing his only light in the incredible darkness that surrounded him.
He had loved Lizzy from the beginning, with the whole of his heart. He had been so proud of her growing up, had watched her through her trials and tribulations, applauded her in her triumphs. He had been scared, frightened, when she left him, putting her heart into another man's keeping. He had felt her loss as acutely when her first born had died before taking its first breath. He had sat with her on the hill near the drive to Pemberley, watching for her husband's return from a journey she had not been able to go on because of her pregnancy. And he had waited with that same husband as they listened to the throes of birth, both of them in agony at the threat of losing that one so precious to them both.
But he had come this last time, his heart heavy with fear and anxiety, after reading the letter from his son-in-law about the condition of his daughter. He had read of his daughter's accident and subsequent fever and delirium, and felt his heart stop...ever so shortly...in his small library at Longbourn, and felt fear wash over him...the same fear he felt now. But now, it was mixed with hopelessness.
He had felt hope after reading that letter; hope that by the time he reached Pemberley, she would have recovered, that he would find his journey of fear to have been for naught. He had hoped that if she wasn't already recovered, that she would be on the road to good health...that she would live. But now...
He didn't want to believe that he would lose her. He didn't want to believe that she might die. But the possibility was there...looming large and dark on the horizon, but there, nevertheless. And he hated it. He wanted to simply brush it from his mind, sweeping all of the traces of doubt from every dusty corner of his heart, but he couldn't. It wouldn't leave him. And it grew...the longer that Elizabeth was this ill, the more doubt seeped into his bones, into his mind, into his heart. He was losing the battle.
Mr. Bennet put the book down on the table next to him, and standing up, walked to the window. He looked out to the grassy lawn below, and hated it. Hated it for its health, its beauty, its life. He hated it because it was so happy, so free; everything his daughter couldn't be as she lay in her bed in a stuffy sick room.
He hid his face in his hands, trying to hold back the futile tears from escaping. He breathed deeply, and turned from the window. With a closed fist, he slammed the desk in anger. Why him? Why Lizzy?
It had been a long day. The estate had been in chaos, and with all of the problems he had had to muddle through, he had managed to divert himself for the time being from the other problems that weighed powerfully on his heart. But as he rode back to the house, his thoughts and his soul grew heavier and heavier with his anguish. As he neared the house, he reined in his horse, and looked up at the window. Though it was a foolish thought...a foolish hope...his heart still plummeted.
"What are you thinking, fool?" he muttered bitterly to himself, shaking his head at his own madness. "That she would come to the window to watch for you?"
He spurred his horse and rode on to the house. He dismounted and walked up the stairs slowly, hesitantly, half wishing to run full speed to his wife's side, half wishing to re-mount his horse and fly as far away from this scene of pain and anguish as possible. But instead he walked sedately into the house and up the stairs, his calm demeanour belying the torment in his heart and his mind.
He first changed out of his dusty work clothes, then opened the connecting door to the main bedchamber. He stopped on the threshold of the room and looked in at his wife. She lay there, exactly as she had the day before, and the day before that. She perhaps looked a bit paler, a bit more wan than she had before, but it didn't matter. It simply didn't matter anymore. She wasn't Elizabeth. That wasn't Elizabeth lying there in the bed in front of him. No, Elizabeth smiled. Elizabeth laughed. Elizabeth ran and danced and played. This was not Elizabeth. And yet out of this fierce denial came the stark realisation that yes, this was Elizabeth.
Darcy approached the bed slowly, gazing down at the still figure of his wife lying on the bed. He sat down slowly on the chair that had long ago been pulled up alongside. He reached out and took hold of her hand. He looked down at it, almost disbelieving that this was his wife's hand that he held in his own larger, more life-like hand. His thumb circled slowly and gently the back of her hand, and he stared at the movement in fascination. At last he looked at Elizabeth's pale face, and sighed. "Can you hear me, Elizabeth?"
He waited for what seemed like an eternity to his pained heart, but there was no response. "It's Fitzwilliam, love. I'm here with you." He looked away for a moment, then looked back at her, his eyes filled with pain and tears. "I'll always be here, Elizabeth. For as long as it takes you to get better. I will be here, by your side. I've told Lawrence to take care of any estate problems. And I will have my meals sent up here. I won't leave your side. Ever." He squeezed her hand lightly.
"Will slept calmly last night. I have hired a wet nurse, and she seems to be a nice young woman. Her name is Jessica. She gave birth to a stillborn only a few days before I hired her. But she loves Will, and he has taken nicely to her. Mrs. Fields still helps out in the nursery, and I will keep her on until Will is sent to school. After that, I shall set her up properly in a cottage in the village.
"It's a beautiful day outside, my dear. The sun is shining brightly, and the grass is a beautiful green after the rain we had yesterday. I saw a vixen as I was riding home. She was acting a bit nervous, so I would hazard a guess that I was riding too close to her lair. She was a beautiful auburn colour, and the tip of her tail was as white as snow. She would be a great catch for a hunter. But somehow, as I looked at her, I just couldn't imagine hunting down something like that. She was too beautiful, too...a part of nature, for me to even imagine killing her. So I rode on. I rode back home to you."
He smiled, and as he exhaled shakily, he reached out to touch her cold cheek with his fingers, caressing it lightly. "Is it cold in here? Perhaps I should get you another blanket. You're sick as it is," he felt his throat catch, but he forced out a light laugh. "And I don't think my getting sick will help matters, either. Perhaps I should go tend the fire."
He released her hand, and went over to the fire. He threw on another piece of wood, then used the fire poker until the flames began roaring back to life. He then returned to Elizabeth's side, and pulled the coverlet up a bit. He sat back in the chair and watched her. Simply watched and waited.
Bingley paused in the doorway, unsure whether to enter. At last, he made his decision, and approached the bedside. He looked down at his friend, and saw that he was sleeping in the chair, his head laid back. He looked down at Elizabeth. Her hands lay tucked beneath the coverlet, her head fallen to one side. Her lashes lay frozen on porcelain cheeks, her dark hair spread out over the pillow.
He couldn't decide whether to wake his friend or not. Darcy had gotten little sleep. He had sat with his wife until early in the morning, before going out onto the estate, not coming back until the sun was past its zenith. He had worked hard and long, and now came back to sit with Elizabeth. He ought to be resting, but Bingley knew that Darcy wouldn't submit to going to the guest room he had been using, so far from this room.
Bingley laid a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Darcy," he said quietly. Darcy stirred, his head lolling to the other side. He mumbled something indistinct in his sleep, and Bingley tried again. This time, Darcy's eyes fluttered open, and he looked around him in sleepy surprise. Suddenly, he sat bolt upright and grasped Elizabeth's hand with one of his own, feeling her forehead with the other. He pulled the hand back slowly, and looked over at Bingley. "I thought...I thought perhaps she was better..." his voice drifted off as he looked back at Elizabeth again.
"Not yet, Darcy," Charles said quietly. "But soon. I'm sure it will be soon."
Darcy shook his head, but looked up again. "What time is it, Bingley?"
Charles sighed. "Time for dinner. I stopped by on my way down. Are you going to join us tonight?"
"No, I can't leave her." Darcy said, his grip on her hand tightening.
"Darcy, you need to come down. I will have Mrs. Fields come in to watch her, or Jane will, but you can be sure she will be taken care of. If anything happens, they can come and inform you immediately. I promise. Just come down to dinner. We do not care what you look like. You can come in whatever you are wearing now."
Darcy sat silently, not moving at all. Then he looked up at Bingley and nodded. "You can send in Mrs. Fields. I'll be down in a few moments."
Charles smiled and put his hand on his friend's shoulder. "You made the right decision, Darcy. We'll be waiting for you. They'll be overjoyed to see you."
He then turned and walked out of the room. Darcy watched him go, his face impassive, not revealing any of his inner thoughts. When the door was closed, he turned again to Elizabeth. He stroked her hair reverently and touched her cheek lightly with his forefinger and thumb. Then standing, he went into his dressing room and closed the door softly behind him.
Everyone turned as Darcy appeared in the doorway. Georgiana smiled brightly and rushed over to him. "How are you, Fitzwilliam?" she murmured as she hugged him tightly.
"I've been better," he mumbled in response. But he held onto her until he finally released her to be next embraced by Mrs. Bingley. "Thank you, Jane," he murmured into her hair.
She pulled back and looked up at him, puzzled. "For what?"
He shrugged. "For everything." He then looked around the room. "Is everyone here?" He asked.
Everyone in the room looked at each other and shrugged and mumbled. Finally, Charles sighed. "We are all here but Mr. Bennet."
"Where is he?" Darcy asked, a bit of impatience seeping into his tone.
"The last time he was seen, he was in the library." Charles approached Darcy and whispered to him. "He isn't taking this very well, Darce. Do you think I ought to go in and see how he's doing?"
Darcy shook his head. "No, I'll take care of it. Just lead everyone in to dinner, and I'll be there as soon as possible."
Darcy left the room and walked down the hall to the library. He knocked softly, then opened the door. At first, he didn't see anyone inside. Then he realised that a chair had been pulled up in front of the long vertical window that looked out over the lawns of Pemberley. He was about to approach, when a voice issued from behind it.
"She's not better, is she?"
There was such despair and pain in the tired voice, that Darcy stopped where he was, stunned. He was silent for a few moments, then responded, his voice low and broken. "No. No, she isn't."
There was complete silence in the library, broken only by the solemn ticking of the clock on the mantle. At last, Darcy heard a rugged sigh. "I guess I was hoping...expecting..." There was a long, pregnant silence before the voice continued. "Thank you for coming to check on me, but I'm fine. Go and enjoy your dinner."
Darcy shook his head and continued towards the chair. "I don't think that's such a good idea, Mr. Bennet." He paused by the desk, and picked up an empty decanter. "How much of my brandy have you already drunk?"
"Not too much, Mr. Darcy. Don't worry, I haven't depleted your store...yet. Would you like to join me? It would seem to me that you need this more than I do."
"Perhaps I do," replied Darcy, "but I cannot indulge. I wish to stay awake tonight."
"For what?" Mr. Bennet asked bitterly. "Do you actually think that she is going to recover suddenly, smile and say, 'scared you all, didn't I'?" Mr. Bennet shook his head. "If you think that, I seriously reconsider giving my Lizzy to you."
"She won't recover suddenly, miraculously, I know," Darcy said with a sigh. "But I wish to be there when she does awaken. I don't want her to come around, and find that I am not by her side. I want her to see me first." He stopped as his voice cracked, and accepted the glass Mr. Bennet thrust at him. He took a huge gulp, then shuddered as the brandy burned his throat. He coughed, then handed the glass back to his father-in-law. He walked away, in the direction of the fireplace, and then stopped, leaning over it, staring avidly into the flames. "I love her," he whispered. "And I will do anything not to lose her."
Mr. Bennet shook his head. "But can anything you do help?"
Darcy looked over at him. "Perhaps not, but I can try. And sitting here, drinking myself into a stupor would help nothing. And I think it's the same for you. Come to dinner with me."
Tossing down the rest of the brandy in his glass, Mr. Bennet shook his head. "I can't face them right now."
"Do you think it's any easier for me?" Darcy asked, a bit tersely.
"No, I don't," Mr. Bennet replied reflectively. "I guess I might as well come as not. Solitude is not always one's friend, eh?"
Darcy only smiled sadly in response, then led the way out of the library and towards the dining hall.
The dining hall was full of people. As Darcy sat down at the head of the table, he looked around at the people he had grown to acknowledge as family. All of the Bennets were here except Lydia and her husband. Mary sat near the end of the table, diagonal from her husband, the vicar of Lowfield. Kitty sat to his right, while her husband, Viscount Malden, sat next to Jane, who sat to Darcy's left. Across from Jane sat Georgiana, whose husband, the Earl of Humphrey, was sitting in agony beside Mrs. Bennet. Darcy could almost smile at the pained glances the earl was sending towards his wife. Almost. But not quite.
Colonel Fitzwilliam sat at the farthest end of the table next to Mary Bennet, and diagonal from his wife, Brianna, who sat next to Mr. Bennet. Bingley sat beside Georgiana, and talked to her the whole of the time, as even he had gotten tired of Mrs. Bennet's prattle. But there was one seat that was empty. And that was directly across from Darcy, at the foot of the table. Elizabeth's chair. It filled Darcy's heart with sadness to see that empty spot, a part of him wondering whether it would always be empty.
He shook his head, and looked down at his plate. As he stared down at his food, he realised that he had no appetite. He didn't care for food at the moment. He only wished to return to Elizabeth's side. He sighed, and put his fork into the salad, and forced himself to swallow. He didn't taste a thing as he shoveled the rest in his mouth. He didn't even look at the next course, his eyes still riveted to the opposite side of the table.
It eventually registered in his mind that someone was talking to him. He looked over at Jane, and had to shake his head to clear his blurred vision, trying to see what was truly in front of him.
"Fitzwilliam, are you all right?" Georgiana asked in concern.
He forced himself to smile, though he was unsure how convincing his attempt was. "Of course. How could I not be?"
He saw the looks of disbelief clearly written on their faces, though attempted to be masked, and was suddenly disgusted with the entire pretense. He stood up suddenly and throwing his napkin on the table, stalked silently from the room. He could feel the eyes of everyone in the room trained on his back as he walked out the door, not even bothering to close it behind him. He walked as sedately as possible up the stairs, but nearly broke into a run as he reached the top. His one desire, his one wish was to be with his wife. And before he realised it, he was standing above her bed, gazing down blankly at her inert form.
He knew that he must accept it. But somehow he couldn't. In his heart of hearts, he still denied that this was she. He could not acknowledge that his wife was dying, that she was dead. Dead perhaps not literally, in the physical sense, but she was dead to him, dead to the world. She could not respond to his light touch, to his pleading voice. She could not listen to him tell her of his love, could not tell him one last time that she loved him. She could not even hear him sob his good-bye.
For he was saying his good-bye. He knew that there was no chance. And as the doctor had told him, in cases such as this, when--or if--the person woke, there was often damage to the brain. Permanent damage. And the longer they were unconscious, the worse the damage. So even if she did awaken, she would not be his Elizabeth. No, it would not be his Elizabeth.
What would happen if she awoke, and she was, as the doctor said, a complete invalid? How could he even cope, watching her like that, every day? Seeing his wife, who had been so full of life and vitality, so full of jokes and smiles, so full of happiness, lying on a couch, not able to even talk to him? How could he come home from working on the estate, knowing that his wife could not even come to greet him at the door, could not even greet him at all? How could he raise his child--their child--by himself, without her loving help? How could he tell a child that his mother loved him, when she could not even embrace him, or kiss him, or tuck him into bed each night? How could he live without her?
Georgiana sat in the salon with the ladies, as they waited for the gentlemen to join them. It was a slightly depressed group, everyone affected by the precipitous exit of her brother. There had been a long silence after he left; no one could think of anything to say. Everyone's mind had been on one thing, one person. It had taken Charles to break the ice, and slowly everyone began to converse again, but it was only half-hearted. In fact, some of the conversations had made no sense at all. But no one noticed. They were superfluities, anyway.
So here she sat in the salon, a part of the group, yet somehow disconnected. She sat a bit apart from the group, unwilling to participate in the desultory discussion on the fashions of the Season. Everyone was pretending to ignore the situation that had brought them all together, yet no one could escape it. It affected everyone in the room; no one could forget it.
Yet they sat in the room, smiling and laughing and talking about sleeves and collars. And it was so false. It was all a faíade. Georgiana simply wanted to stand and scream at them, "What is wrong with you? Do you not see that she is dying? Do you even not care?"
But she didn't. She sat demurely in her chair, a few metres outside the circle of the group, and listened. No, not listened. Heard. She heard it all, but she listened to none of it. She could not listen to any of it, for the words were as foreign to her as Greek, as meaningless as a child's aimless scribbles.
She watched the gentlemen enter, their smiles as false and pasted-on as the ladies'. She watched her husband approach her, a look of concern on his face. She tried to smile, but failed miserably. He sat down beside her and took her hand in his, squeezing it gently in understanding. But she couldn't stop the sudden tears that welled in her eyes, the lump from forming in her throat. As Brianna went to the piano to play, Georgiana got up and went to sit in the window seat. She stared out the window, into the blackness beyond, the blackness that had become as familiar to her as her own face.
The song Brianna played was light and happy, and its melody lifted the atmosphere of the room somewhat. Everyone tried their best to be drawn in by the surrogate cheerfulness. The viscount suggested a game of whist, and the group agreed. Two games were formed. Mr. Bennet declined, as did the vicar. Brianna continued to play for the group, and Georgiana remained at the window.
She stared out into the cold darkness outside and thought. She thought about her sister-in-law, a woman who had become a mother, sister, and friend to her in the past few years. She thought about their times together during the Season in London. She thought about her engagement, and Elizabeth's joy and happiness. She thought about the late days of Elizabeth's pregnancy, and all of the time Georgiana had spent in her company in Elizabeth's private sitting room. She thought about their laughter and their tears, their silly whisperings and their grave secrets. She thought of the lazy afternoons wasted, and the hectic evenings before dinners and balls. And she cursed the Fate that had taken it all away.
She turned for a moment and watched the games of whist, the games of chance. How life was like a game of chance; a simple throw of the dice, or flip of the cards could either plunge you into bankruptcy or make you rich as Croesus. It was all luck, fate, destiny--whatever you wished to call it. Life was a maze of twists and turns, a labyrinth that stretched from birth to death. But one could never go backwards. Only forwards into the unknown; a path that may lead anywhere, but always ended at one place.
Georgiana turned towards the window again and stared at the reflection the light made on the glass. She could see everyone behind her, playing cards, trying to act as if there was nothing else wrong in the world. Their images were fuzzy, as if they were not really there; a dream she had created within her own mind. She wished it truly were all a dream. That would be the best possible outcome of this all; that she would wake up suddenly and realise that there was never really anything wrong, that the accident had never happened, that Elizabeth was not lying in the bed upstairs, only a step or two from death.
But her heart told her that her dream could never happen. She knew, she accepted, and she stared truth in the face. Elizabeth would die; it was inevitable. But Georgiana still prayed to God, asking Him to take care of her sister when she finally approached those pearly gates. Georgiana didn't doubt that Elizabeth would go to heaven. It wasn't even a question. She had never known anyone who was so kind, loving, and happy, except perhaps for her sister Jane. Elizabeth had been a Godsend. But now He was taking her back.
To teach them what, though? Everything was for a purpose, right? So what had been Elizabeth's purpose? What is the purpose of this--her death, suddenly, yet slowly--out of their lives? Couldn't He have left her for a bit longer? There were so many things left for Elizabeth to do, so many unfinished projects, so many lives left behind. Elizabeth had never even been given the chance to raise her son. What was the purpose of that?
Brianna's fingers played automatically, flowing over the keyboard in rapid precision. She didn't even have to look at the music to know what the notes were. She had them all memorised; a song she knew in the deepest part of her heart. She could remember her mother sitting beside her at the piano, playing the notes with her, smiling and laughing as they played together, sometimes wrong, but always so right.
Her mother had died only a year ago, just after her marriage to the Colonel. She remembered that dark day as if it were yesterday. She had been here, at Pemberley, when she had received the news. And she remembered so clearly how kind Elizabeth had been to her. She had even traveled with her to her mother's home, to give her some companionship. Richard had been in London for a few days, and Elizabeth refused to allow her to travel alone. She had been so kind and compassionate. She had listened the whole trip to Brianna's stories, and comforted her when she began to cry.
Since that day, Lizzy had been Brianna's closest friend. They wrote letters when they couldn't see each other. Lizzy had bought Bri a small porcelain figure while in Bath once--a small figurine of a young girl shepherd and a lamb; Bri had brought it with her this time, thinking, however illogically, that it could change what was happening. Irrational, yes; but for some reason, it simply felt like it was the right thing to do.
Bri had been stunned when she had read the letter from Darcy, telling her of the accident, and his request for her to come to Pemberley. Her husband had come into the room to find his wife weeping uncontrollably as the letter she had read fluttered to rest on the floor beside her. He had held her as she poured out her fears, and comforted her, and consoled her. The fear she had felt was put away now in a corner of her heart. She had not the time or patience now to be weak. Others needed her to be strong, and she was. She would be the one to console now, the one to give hope. And she played it with every ounce of her strength.
She had been surprised, to say the least, to hear that it was a riding accident. From what she had seen, Elizabeth had turned out to be an excellent horsewoman. She was too smart to have gone out in the storm without a groom. She was too smart to have let her horse stumble and throw her off. It couldn't have been her lying there in the rain, waiting for her horse to return to the stables, alone and unridden, waiting for the search party to locate her and bring her back to the house. She was too smart.
Yet it was she. And it was she that lay on the bed, day after day, her fever growing only worse, slipping in and out of consciousness, finally to slip out, never to return. It was she that Darcy sat next to, hour after hour, waiting for her to awaken and laugh and say everything had been fine. It was Elizabeth.
Bri came to the end of the song, the last happy notes jarring in her ears, at complete contrast with the sad thoughts that had taken root in her mind. She pushed them away impatiently, and began her search for new music. The lull became heavier and heavier as the silence grew. The thoughts that had been banished as the music played were slowly finding their way into the room again. It could not banish them forever.
As the days passed on, the hope faded. The reality of what was to happen grew stronger in the minds of the inhabitants of Pemberley. The mood of the house had gone from bad to worse. There was still hope, as there always is in life. But the hope was so hidden in the tangle of sadness and despair that it would have taken the most skilled to find it, someone whose only goal was to find hope in such situations. And none of the family and friends in Pemberley was such a person.
There were no more doctors to come to the house. Darcy would not call one in, not even the greatest specialist from London. He knew what there was to say, and he truthfully did not wish to hear it from one more person. It would only break his heart once more.
Elizabeth had always been the bright light in the household. She had gone about, a sun in the pale sky. There was not a member of the staff who was not wishing for her recovery. She had been so kind to them all.
Elizabeth had found a love for gardening. She had created a small garden of her own in a corner of the gardens. She had tended it carefully. She had especially loved the roses that the gardener had given her to transplant. She tended them carefully, and often cut a few during their bloom to put around the house.
Kitty watched now as the gardener stood over that same little plot of earth that Elizabeth had tended so lovingly, watering the soil with his own tears. He had thought he was unwatched. He had thought he was alone out here. In an unguarded moment, he was grieving for his mistress as much as those who were her family. For the first time, Kitty realised just how much her sister had touched all who had met her. She had never realised before what strong emotions Elizabeth created in other people, let alone in Kitty herself.
It had been a shocking experience to open the letter and read that she was wanted at Pemberley. She had been even more surprised to find the reason. She was doubtful at first, not believing that her sister, who had been so successful in life, who had always lived life to the fullest yet still within the bounds of propriety, was dying. It seemed impossible. After all, she was only a few years older than Kitty. And she had just had a child. Kitty rested her hand on her abdomen almost protectively over the child she had discovered only a few weeks ago that lived and grew within her. What would happen if she died after she gave birth to this child? She had seen Darcy, and knew the pain he felt. She wondered whether the same pain would happen to those that loved her if she should die.
She thought about Will, the child she had met only a few days ago when she arrived at Pemberley. What would happen to the child? What would happen to him without a mother and with a father who was utterly lost to the world, so caught up in his grief was he? Kitty could remember her own childhood, growing up in the Bennet household, and knew what it was like to be forgotten, looked over. She had always been the shadow of Lydia, or of Elizabeth, or of Jane, or even, in a sense, of Mary. She had been no one's favourite, no one's dearest child. She had survived, but she could never willingly wish that kind of existence on any child, especially not on her own nephew. If worse came to worse, the child had a home with her. She would willingly take him in, if her husband agreed or not.
But she hoped things would not come to that. Things would work out for the best, whether Elizabeth died or not. If Elizabeth lived, all would be right in the world. If she died, Darcy would find solace in routine, in his son. It would have to work that way, wouldn't it?
Kitty turned away from the sight of the broken gardener, and walked the opposite direction, to where a small wrought-iron bench sat beneath a weeping willow. It looked out over a sleepy stream that wound its way through the gardens and into the larger stream in the woods. She sat down on the bench and arranged her skirts. She clasped her hands together tightly and looked out over the small sanctuary. She had heard Jane say that this had been Elizabeth's favourite place to be. And Kitty could easily see why. It was so peaceful, so silent. One could lose oneself in a place like this.
She was so engrossed in her musings that she failed to hear the footsteps approaching behind her. Yet when the hand rested lightly on her shoulder, she didn't even blink an eye. "It's so peaceful here, David,"she breathed softly.
She felt her husband's hand tighten slightly, and then he removed it and, moving around the bench, sat down beside her. He took her hand in his and laid them, clasped, on his thigh. They sat there, like that, a picturesque scene of peace and harmony to one who did not look too closely at the pain in their eyes.
The silence was long, but not painful. It was a peaceful silence, one in which each knew exactly what the other was thinking, one in which sadness and fear and hope were all shared, though never spoken aloud. The only sound heard was the soft whisper of the silken breeze and the rush of the small stream over the rocks. The hum of insects and the scamper of small animals in the brush were soft and soothing. And they sat, not a word spoken, not a movement from either.
It was so peaceful here, so quiet and tranquil. It felt as though it were a bubble, a place that the world could not touch; a small haven from the world. The fear and sadness from the outside was not allowed within the hallowed confines of the bubble. But, too, all of the sadness and fear that existed inside of them before they entered the bubble were trapped. It festered and hurt, but there was nothing but to endure it. No avenues of escape from this unendurable anxious apprehension and grief.
As the sun went down slowly over the horizon, they realised how long they had been sitting there, how cold it was slowly becoming. Yet they were reluctant to enter the world again, a harsh contrast to their quiet place of refuge. The viscount moved first and helped his wife to her feet. They walked a short distance out from under the shade of the weeping willow. They stood in momentary awe of the fireball slowly descending, casting a blazing hue over the landscape. Then slowly, they walked back to the house, hand in hand.
Colonel Fitzwilliam paced the walkway of the conservatory in the waning light. He hardly noticed the lush plants around him, his thoughts were so completely wrapped up. It had been so difficult these past few weeks, so incredibly difficult. He had wished to present a strong face to everything that had been happening, yet found his strength weakening. When he had returned from the room where Darcy kept vigilance over his dying wife, it had taken everything within his power not to smash any one of the priceless vases that sat on small tables here and there in the hallway.
He had been so unaccountably angry. Angry with who or what, he could not say. He just had this incredible anger that welled within him when he thought of the woman who lay dying on that bed. She was not deserving of this fate, of this death. In his mind, she ought to have lived until she was seventy-five, ought to have been able to watch her grandchildren be born, ought to have lived long enough to at least see her son grow into maturity. Yet she wouldn't have these chances. It nearly made him hate himself, for being so alive while she was...well...
He took a few deep breaths to calm himself. Really, this was getting out of control. Yet he couldn't restrain the uninhibited fury when he thought of the Fates that had led them to this impasse. He hated the fact that so much pain had to come to all of the people he loved so much.
She was so beautiful, so intelligent, and so kind. She had befriended his wife at their first meeting. She had cared for him with a sisterly affection, and if she ever realised that he had, before his marriage to Brianna, felt a bit more for her than just brotherly fondness, she didn't show any indication.
And now she was dying--dead. She was not going to recover, and he knew that. Yet he still raged against the destiny that had killed her. He felt as though he could simply punch something in anger. But he knew that he couldn't. He had to simply bear it with the most stoical aspect he could summon.
He opened the door to the room he shared with is wife slowly and looked in on her. She was sitting before the mirror at her vanity, gazing at her reflection. As he approached her from behind, he could see by her red, puffy eyes that she had been crying, and he felt another surge of anger rush through him. But he settled his hand upon her shoulder as gently as he could. She put her hand over his, and squeezed it gently. "It's like losing my mother all over again, Richard,"she said with a slight sniffle.
"I know, I know,"he said softly. "But there is nothing we can do, Bri. There is nothing we can do."
"I understand that, Richard. But it doesn't make it any easier to bear."
He smiled sadly. "I know."
It was not a dark day when Elizabeth passed away. In fact, the morning sky was flawless, the sun cheerful. As her husband held her hand tightly in his, he said one last time that he loved her more than life itself. And with a last breath, exhaled on almost a sigh, she was still. Her hand grew cold in his as his tears rolled heedlessly down his face, landing on her pale, lifeless fingers.
He didn't notice as the others came in and found him crying over the dead body of his wife. He didn't notice as they pried his hand from hers, as they walked him to his room. He didn't notice anything for days, simply stared out the window into some hitherto unknown realm of pain. His old world had just crumbled.
It was almost fitting that the weather on the day of her funeral should be perfect also. The pale blue sky above was dotted with white, fluffy clouds, the kind to make dreams upon and imagine with. But there was nothing to imagine here, no dreams that could compare with the nightmarish tragedy that was happening here on the earth. The heavens made no difference to these people.
The mourners stood beside the empty grave as the pallbearers brought the casket closer. There was not a dry eye among the small crowd that had gathered, except one. Darcy stood silently, his gaze never wavering from the casket that held his wife. His grief was written only in his heart and his eyes as he stood there, alone in the crowd, his expression as stoical and impenetrable as solid stone.
His heart had broken. A part of him had died that day, extinguished with the very last breath Elizabeth had taken. A part of him was now gone and would never be recovered. He watched blindly as the casket was laid beside the tomb. He listened with deaf ears as the priest said his blessing. It didn't matter anymore. Nothing mattered anymore. Life had just died.
Darcy remained by the grave long after the others had left, each offering condolences, walking away slowly, with backward glances at him filled with pain and compassion. But there was nothing they could say to make him leave his place by his wife's side. No one could have made him come home. And after the first attempt, no one tried. They knew it was a fruitless endeavour.
As the day turned to night, and the sun drifted close to the horizon, its blazing rays turning the landscape crimson with pain, Darcy collapsed. He wept there, on the ground, as the stars slowly appeared in the heavens. He stayed there as the gravediggers came to fill the grave. He hardly noticed as the last scraps of dirt were thrown over his wife's casket. It didn't matter to him; the soil was only further proof of the suddenly impossible barriers between them.
Bri found Darcy in the conservatory a week later, as she and the colonel were about to leave Pemberley. They had stayed on for a bit longer than the rest of the guests. Bri had helped Jane go through some of Elizabeth's things, packing it away in trunks in the attic. It had taken a long time to do, as it was hard not to cry as they recognised something of which Elizabeth had been especially fond, or something that had held strong memories. The majority of the time had not been of packing, but of reminiscing and crying and laughing. It had been the hardest thing in the world, and yet the easiest. It put finality on her passing.
Now Bri stood in the doorway, looking in at the heartbroken man sitting on a bench, gazing forlornly into the unknown. His heart was on his face in this unguarded moment, and the blackness of the despair she read there made Bri shiver. She knew that this was the only moment she could possibly have to turn him away from the path of self-destruction from which no one else, in the past week, had been able to steer him. She was the one person who could do it.
"Darcy?"she queried softly.
She saw him start, and he turned around on the bench. When he saw her, he attempted a smile that fell immediately flat. "Are you come to bid farewell, Brianna?"
"Not farewell, Darcy. Never farewell. I will never say good-bye to anyone as long as I am living, for I will see them all again. No, I will tell you, ╬until later.'"She sat down on the bench next to him, and arranged her skirts carefully. She took a deep breath, and then faced him. "I am not leaving just yet, though. I must talk with you first."
He shook his head slowly, sadly. "You may as well not even say what you wish to say. I have heard it all already. There is nothing you can say to make it better."He looked up into overhanging branches, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. "She is gone, Bri. Gone forever. And nothing can change that."
"I am glad that you are having no trouble accepting her death, Darcy,"Bri said with a sigh. "It was one thing that I was worried about."
"How could I not accept it?"he asked, an unidentifiable emotion seeping into his tone. "I was with her when she died. I held her hand when she died. She left me when I had said I would never leave her."
Bri felt the tears in her eyes, but willed them back. Darcy went on. "I promised her that I would love her forever. I told her that when we were married. I promised I would love her ╬until death do us part.' And I did. I loved her until the very last breath she took. I just did not realise that it would be such a short time when I made that promise. I had imagined us growing old together. I had believed that I would have so many years more to tell her just how much I loved her. But I didn't.
"It was a lie, you know,"he said softly.
"What was?"Bri asked just as gently.
"That wedding vow; that I would love her until death parted us. No, it was a lie. I will always love her. I will love her until I have no more to give, until I myself find that place we all go when we die. And I pray to God that I will find her there, and we can continue our love there. For we didn't have nearly enough time here to do it. After all of our struggles, after all of the time we had spent finding each other, and learning to love each other, I had thought..."
He sobbed for a few moments in silence, his shoulders shaking with his grief. Bri laid a hand on his shoulder. "I know that this might not help anything, Darcy, but there is a French saying that goes, c'est la vie. It means ╬that is life.' We cannot change the things that happen to us. Sometimes they are good and sometimes bad. But life is life, and we must take what we can, not expecting any more than we receive. You had a blessing, Darcy, whether you realise it or not. You were able to love and be loved by the most deserving person for as long as you have. And you continue to be loved by all of the people that were brought into your life because of her. Don't you see? Because of these people, her love for you goes on. In their hearts is their love for her, their love for you. You are still loved, Darcy.
"Do not think that because she is gone, life has simply stopped. Death does not stop life. It cannot. Life and love are stronger than death. I am not saying that death will not happen; it is inevitable that sometime our life in this world will end. But Life itself goes on. We live on in the memories of those around us. We live on.
"And you must live on, Darcy. You cannot stop and think, ╬that is that.' For it is not. Your life must continue. It is what Elizabeth would have wished for you. It is what we all wish for you. Though Elizabeth's life ended all too soon, she left something in this world for you to remember her by. There is a child upstairs, Darcy. A child who has not seen his father nearly as much as he should have in these past few weeks since Elizabeth has fallen ill. What would happen to that child, Darcy, if you were to abandon him? He has already lost his mother; do not let him lose his father, also."
Darcy didn't respond, and Bri sighed and let her hand drop from his shoulder. She reached into her pocket and slowly removed a letter, worn and torn as if read through many times. She gazed down at it silently for a few moments, her fingers caressing the paper. At last she continued, her voice low and soft. "I can remember when my mother died. I had thought the world had ended. And it had. I had built my whole world around my mother. She had been my sun, my moon, and my stars. Even after my marriage, I still felt nearly the same way, though now I had had two suns. I had not been with her when she died, which made me feel guilty. I had been here, at Pemberley with Elizabeth.
"I am not sure what would have happened had I been anywhere but here. Elizabeth supported me when every step I took I thought that my earth was crumbling. She went with me to Upham Court, traveled with me, and kept me from falling over the precipice that had opened in front of me the moment I read of my mother's death. She became my closest friend from then on. I knew that had I any problem, I could come to her, and she would be there for me. And she was, time and again.
"If you remember, Elizabeth returned here to Pemberley when Richard arrived from London. Not a week later, I received a letter from her. Though, over the years, I have saved every letter I received from her, this is the one letter that I keep in the most special place I have; my mother's rosewood jewelry box. I have read through it many times over the years, and I find that it heals any ache that may trouble me."
She ran her hand across the letter one more time before extending it towards Darcy. She held it out to him, and he slowly raised his hand to grasp it. She held onto it for a moment more, whispering. "I am giving this to you, Darcy, because I think it will mean as much to you as it has meant to me."
She let go then, and stood up as if to leave. Darcy reached out and grasped her hand. She looked at him, and he looked into her eyes. "Thank you,"he said, emotions choking his voice.
She squeezed his hand lightly with a smile, then turned and left the conservatory. Darcy sat again alone on the bench. But this time, he was not completely alone. He had with him the memory of Elizabeth, her angel with him. He opened the letter slowly, gingerly, as if afraid that it might crumble at his touch. He took a deep breath, and began to read:
My dear Brianna,
This is my third time trying to write this letter. I have agonised over what to say, and as I begin anew, I have decided to simply let my heart guide my hand, and tell you exactly what I believe with my very soul.
You must believe me when I express my sorrow over your mother's passing. Though I have never met her, I feel as though we are old friends through the tales you have shared with me. I know that she loved you nearly as much as her daughter undoubtedly loved her. I do not grieve for you though; I grieve with you. And never believe that you are the only one who knows this pain, for it is universal, my dear. I am not saying that your pain is insignificant, for I know in my heart that it truly is more pain than I would wish ever to have. But I know that I shall some day, and I know that you are not alone; just never forget that you are never alone, Brianna.
When I was younger, I had a dog. Its name had been Fritz. I'm not exactly sure as to why I decided on that name, but there it was: a fluffy dog named Fritz. He had not been the most beautiful dog, nor of the most renowned lineage, but he was mine. I took care of him, and he loved me with the kind of unconditional love that can only be found in an animal. If I had chosen to, I am sure that I could have done anything to that dog, and it would have loved me all the more. But I could never have betrayed that kind of trust. Those that depend on you are the ones you must most respect.
I can still remember the day Fritz went missing. I had been terrified. I didn't know where he had gone, and I had searched the whole house and, to the best of my ability, the whole of my father's estate. But I found him nowhere. We did not find him for more than a week. In fact, it was I who found him finally. I had been walking down by the creek when I saw him tied to a tree, his fur coated with blood, cuts and slashes running down his butchered face. I had screamed and run back to Papa, crying all the while. Eventually, we discovered that some neighborhood boys had found Fritz and for a joke, tied him up and began throwing rocks at him. He had died there on that tree, alone and unloved.
I learned something. I did not learn it that day, nor even probably that year. I had been too distraught, too angry to forgive. But when the pain of loss had passed away, I realised that I had to forgive those boys for what they had done. My lack of forgiveness was hurting myself more than it ever pained them. Anger, like hate or jealousy, is an emotion that hurts the one who bears it much more than it hurts anyone else. I had to forgive in order to find peace with myself and with Fritz's death.
Life is like that. One thing that will happen to all mortals is death. It is an inevitability that no one can avoid. When it happens to someone we love, the only things that we can do are grieve, love, and forgive. These are the only things that can give us closure. To forgive is the most important. We must forgive God; we must forgive Death. Our time in this world is too short to spend it living in regret or pain.
No one is sure what happens after we die. There, of course, is much speculation, but no one has yet been able to die, and then return to tell of it. I believe that Death, like Life, is a journey. When we die, our body remains here, yet our soul is taken to a place much better than this life. There we are at peace with God and with everything and everyone around us. There we can be with those whom we have lost through the years. But remember this: we have never truly lost them. As long as their memories live on you, they live, and they are not lost. You may never be able to be with them physically again, but they are always with you, nonetheless, watching over you in spirit and love.
Brianna, take comfort. You are loved here, and you will be loved always. Never forget who you are, and never forget who loves you, for they will be the ones to turn to in your need. I will be here when you need me, Bri. I love you.
The letter slowly fell from his limp fingers as he stared into the distance before him, not truly seeing anything. He sat for a few moments like this, his fingers unclenched, his hands resting on his thighs. Tears rolled down his face, but he didn't notice.
It was nearly an half hour before he moved. But when he did, he stood up with a determined motion, and, with new purpose in his eyes and his stride, he walked out the door and up the stairs. When he reached the nursery, he opened the door decisively and went in. He walked to the cradle that held his son and gently, oh so gently, lifted him out. He held the small child before him for a moment, gazing at him with loving eyes, then pulled him tightly to his chest. He stroked Will's hair softly as he whispered, "You and I, Will. It's just you and I now."
I would like to thank you all for reading this story. It has been an amazing experience for me. I am not a student of psychology, but I find the workings of the human mind an interesting study. I tried to portray the different emotions that different people might experience in such a situation as this as truly and faithfully as possible. I have always believed that different people respond to the death of a loved one in different ways, and this is what I attempted to capture. I thank you all once again for reading this short story. I apologise once again for its dark tone, but I felt that to accomplish what I had set out to do, I had to be realistic. And I also apologise for the death of my favourite character, but I most unfortunately believed it was not only necessary in this story, but also truthful.
Thank you again.
© 2000 Copyright held by author