Patience and Prudence
Note: This takes up where 'Father Christmas' left off.
It had been almost five years since the youngest Darcy tot had come into the world. The family and servants had grown accustomed to not having a baby around the place, but when the mistress confessed that the halls of Pemberley were again to be blessed with the pitter-patter of tiny Darcy feet, the excitement within the walls of the stately house was profound, and markedly for the proud parents-to-be.
To tell the truth, Elizabeth Darcy had forgotten the degree of patience it took to carry a child for nine months, until the day when she would be blessed to hold the babe in her arms and shower the new arrival with the love she bestowed on each and every one of her children. Fitzwilliam Darcy had forgotten the amount of prudence a husband must own to live those many months with a woman in just such a delicate condition, although the devotion he felt for his wife was never shaded in any way.
The Darcys other children were curious as to what it meant to have a baby in the house. They could never recall a period when they were not indulged by their parents. This was to be a time of compromise for three youngsters not so inclined to share the affection they so craved with one whom they had no concept would be so tiny and needy. Thus, their parents would have to summon every ounce of forbearance in their possession, until the time when Pemberley would welcome the last child born from the union of two most excellent people.
Darcy sat at his place at the table, unfolding his napkin and setting it on his lap. He had been out of the house for most of that day, looking over the livestock on the estate's farmyards, calculating those additions with his steward which Spring would offer in the expectation of foals, calves, piglets, lambs, and kids. The excursion had made him quite hungry, to say the least, and he looked to his wife who sat across the table from himself, and offered up a harmless question.
"What is for supper, my dear?"
Elizabeth extended him an indifferent glance, for she was in her first few months of carrying this child, and her body swayed from owning a ravenous, not to mention odd appetite, to that of a constitution leaning in the opposite direction. "Mrs. Beal has made an excellent mutton stew."
"Mrs. Beal has made what, dear?" Darcy questioned, not thinking he had heard his wife's answer correctly.
Elizabeth provided the answer again, "Stew, dear--mutton stew."
"Mutton stew," Darcy repeated to himself in a whisper of doubt, and a pinch of his lips. He glanced at his children to see Christian make a sour face toward his brother Andrew, and Andrew return the gesture by wrinkling up his nose in veritable distaste. No one in the household cared much for mutton stew, in fact no one had ever recalled having it grace the table at Pemberley, for Darcy was not fond of it in the slightest, nor were his children.
Elizabeth grinned with enthusiasm this time, "I had quite a craving for mutton stew earlier today, so I asked Mrs. Beal to serve it for supper."
"A craving," Darcy repeated through a covert sigh, while tinkering with the silverware laid next to his plate. He had no wish to upset the delicate balance of dwelling with a woman possessed of such peculiar longings, thus he struggled in vain to keep any grievances he might maintain to himself.
"Mama?" Hannah whispered. "Must I eat it?"
"Yes, you must eat it," Elizabeth replied in a bother.
Christian made yet another peevish face, "It does not taste good, Mama."
"That is not true, you all are very fond of it."
Elizabeth glanced up in haste towards her husband, her cheeks flushed at the disapprobation of her children at her attentive selection of a worthy meal. Darcy returned her looked with a shake of his head and a hesitant shrug, pressing his own good fortune somewhat to the boundaries of good regulation, "Whatever gave you the idea that we liked it, dear?"
Elizabeth's mouth drew into a taut pout as she turned back toward her children. "What a bother--we shall all eat it!" she insisted. "Mrs. Beal went to a considerable amount of trouble to prepare it, and it shall not be wasted!"
"Very well, Elizabeth," Darcy tried to sooth his wife's temperament back into amenability. He attempted to convey to his children the gravity of the situation by glancing at them all, one by one, with broadened eyes, nodding to them to unfold their napkins and make ready for their meal. Although they silently complied, they did so out of regard for their father's command, not for the anticipation of the disagreeable mutton stew.
A servant brought in a large tureen and placed it in the center of the table. With a smile toward her mistress in expectation of her pleasure, the woman lifted off the lid, and steam wafted up from the huge bowl, filling the room with the aroma of hearty stew.
"Blech!" came a noise from Christian.
"Christian!" Darcy turned to the boy with a father's critical frown, to deter him from any further unsavory comment, strictly not admitted at the supper table.
No sooner had the child's declaration reached her ears, and the strong smell of the stew reached her nostrils, did Elizabeth's eyes broaden and she went completely ashen. Her entire family, not to mention the servant, observed in wonder as she hurriedly affected an escape from of the room, dashing upstairs towards her dressing chamber, posthaste.
Christian mindfully looked back at his father, his customary repentance shown on his face in the form of sorrowful brown eyes. He did not really understand what he had done, nor did he understand that his mother should take such offense to his proclamation, but he offered up an apology in the structure of a whisper. "Sorry, Papa."
Darcy features were chiseled with paternal criticism, "You do not make faces or disagreeable comments on what is placed before you at the supper table. It is a mark of shoddy ladies and gentlemen to do so, and will not be tolerated from any children of mine."
Christian regretfully looked back down at his plate. He tried his best not to choke at the thought of having to eat the offensive stew, for if he did, he was sure it would only vex his father more.
"Please put the lid back on that and take it away," Darcy coolly instructed the poor confused servant. The bewildered head of the household got up from the table, and began to walk from the room. Before he left, he turned back toward his astonished progeny, saying, "Go and ask Mrs. Beal to make you each a sandwich."
"I am so sorry," Elizabeth lay on the bed, dabbing at her eyes and nose with a delicate handkerchief, as her husband entered the room. "It seemed very appealing this afternoon."
With a smirk meant only for his own inexplicable humor, Darcy sat down upon the bed next to his wife. "We have both forgotten how to live with all of this again. It is a blessing I think, how quickly one forgets a regimen of toast and savoury biscuits. If this were not the case there would probably be no one willfully able to populate the world."
Elizabeth mustered a snicker at Darcy's dependable sarcasm. "I must go back downstairs and have Mrs. Beal fix the children something else for supper, and you should eat something yourself."
"No, no," Darcy reassured his wife with a loving pat of her hand. "Mrs. Beal is preparing the children something else, and as for me--I am quite resolved to do without for a time."
"You are just saying that to make me feel better, Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth looked at him crossly.
"Well, yes.." he admitted "...and no. It is very strange, but your afflictions always seem to rub off onto me."
Elizabeth sat up and Darcy moved his arm gingerly around her. She managed to find humor in his proclamation, "Sympathy pains--you have sympathy pains for me when I am with child?"
"I suppose," Darcy chuckled. "I believe there is nothing I would not do for you, my wife." He let his hand caress her back in a gesture of comfort and she eased into his embrace. "Elizabeth, I may not be the one to suffer the unfortunate burdens of pregnancy," he stopped to provide a covert grimace, then offered, "Well not directly, at least--but I am willing to share in the responsibility. This is my doing as well, you know."
Elizabeth peered up to him, "Indeed."
Rolling his eyes sideways in subjection the poor man continued, "If you are not well, you should not have to worry about the children, or household responsibilities. Until you are able, I shall manage these things myself."
Her husband's offer was too enticing to be ignored, but Elizabeth replied, more teasing than not, "Fitzwilliam, mistress of a great estate is a very weighty responsibility."
"Surely it is," Darcy acknowledged, playing along with a smile to serve his wife's fair spirit. He leaned down and gave her a loving kiss on the forehead. "But then again, so is motherhood."
For such a prudent individual, Darcy often times failed to realize the misfortunes he brought upon himself by taking on such responsibilities. Now that he had offered himself up as both father and mother, master and mistress, he had to make good on his word. His head began to ache, thinking of the commitments he had just willingly bestowed upon himself, and with a notable sigh, he lowered his head to the pillow next to his wife's, and attempted to allow his churning stomach an opportunity to recover.
Elizabeth did indeed take Darcy up on his offer of interim assistance. She was finding her condition more of a restriction than she had on any previous occasion. Elizabeth tried her best to stay out of the affairs which she normally handled, waiting for Darcy to inquire as to her good opinions. She had no wish to tread on her husband's pride by extending to him unwanted counsel, however, she did not wish to see her own esteem stripped away by feeling somewhat dispensable.
In Elizabeth's opinion, Darcy did a fair job in his directions to the household staff, but of course he had been use to doing so before their marriage. It was a bit of a different story with his children, as it is for some fathers upon being confronted with the task of single-parenthood. Darcy possessed all the prudence of any wise sire, but his patience at times left much to be desired.
"Mrs. White," Darcy spoke to the children's governess, while pacing back and forth across the length of the room. "I know Mrs. Darcy takes much of the everyday duties of seeing to the children's needs upon herself. I doubt she will be able to do much until she is feeling better. Might I depend upon you to take over some of those responsibilities?"
"Of course, sir," Mrs. White nodded.
"I should like to do as much as I am able. For a time I shall dispense with some of the duties of the estate, but I am afraid I am not as informed in the needs of three spirited children, as perhaps I could be."
"I shall see to all their material necessities, and leave all the patience and prudence for their lively little minds, in your capable hands..." Mrs. White tweaked a brow at her near insolence, "...sir."
Darcy bit down on the side of his lip, and with a subjugate flare of his nostrils, cast the woman a scrupulous eye. "Yes, of course."
Things did not go badly at first, and Darcy was here and now contented with his situation. He had thought it judicious to sit down with his children that night, and try to explain to them the particulars of their predicament, as best as he could. He was a bit anxious by the three disgruntled youngsters sitting on cushions before his chair in the library.
"But why, Papa?" came a meek voice from the gallery before him.
"Well," he shifted uneasily in his chair, conjuring up all that Darcy wisdom and sagacity. "Your Mama is not feeling as well as she could these days. She is very fatigued and she needs her rest."
"Mama has never been fati...fat...she has never been that before," Christian recalled, behind obstinately arched eyebrows. "She always plays with us, everyday."
"She will be able to spend more time with us again soon, but for now we shall do her good by not disturbing her rest. You have Mrs. White to spend your mornings with, then the usual time with your tutor, Mr. Keating. You and I shall spend more time together in the evenings and more often during the day. I shall let Mr. Rawlings handle most of the estate business for now."
Darcy looked to Christian, in hopes that his rebuttal would be acceptable to a boy of almost five. The child maintained the pout on his lips, in fact all of Darcy's offspring looked as if they had just been privy to a disconcerting speech presented by the opposing political camp. They had come to know their mother as a woman with infinite spirit, for there was not a day to go by that she did not brighten their world with her good humor and her love of all things wondrous.
"When is the baby going to come, Papa?" Andrew asked.
"Not until mid-summer, or a little later."
"Mid-summer!" they shrilled in unison.
Hannah heaved a sigh, "That is forever! It is not even done being cold outside yet!"
Darcy's concentrated approach to the conversation was waning, for he himself thought mid-summer seemed like an eternity. "Mama will be feeling better before we even know it."
"Do you think she will change her mind, and not want a baby anymore?" Christian asked, as determined as ever to have his mother back to himself.
Darcy grinned, "I think not. Mothers seem to possess an invincible determination in these things."
"What means that, Papa?"
Darcy simplified his statement for his youngest son, "It means they do not give up." Darcy's grin faded to a sympathetic smile as he glanced again at the confused and discontented faces before him. "Come now," he cajoled them. "We shall surely be able to take care of ourselves for a short time. It will be fine, I promise."
With those assurances, he took his children upstairs to make ready for bed, then sought out his wife in his own bedchamber. Elizabeth was anxious to hear the details of Darcy's discourse with the children, and as he sat down next to where she was resting, she reached out a hand and placed it on his arm.
"Do they understand, Fitzwilliam?"
Darcy heaved a breathy chuckle. He entertained expressing a small lie to give her comfort, then his conscience got the better of him. "No."
"I cannot blame them," Elizabeth replied, displeased with herself for being, what she considered fallible. "It is all beyond the comprehension of their little souls."
Darcy brought his hand to his face to conceal his mirth as he recalled Christian's statement. "They thought perhaps they could talk you out of this."
"You did tell them that I am not confined to my room. That I shall continue to see them during the day, and be able to tuck them into bed at night, and read stories to them, and kiss their little scraped fingers, and...and..." Poor Elizabeth's long face was followed by inevitable tears. By now Darcy had grown accustomed to watching helplessly as his wife wavered in her emotional command.
Darcy's brows knit together, attempting to recall why he had suggested all of this tribulation in the first place. It had all been arranged, in the name of prudence. However, he was beginning to wonder how wise a man he really was, in practice.
Mr. Harry Wright came to Pemberley for a visit one evening. He had been married to the former Miss Mary Bennet for some years now. They lived in a modest house on the far side of Lambton, with their four children, and another one very close to entering the world. Elizabeth's sister Mary had quite taken to motherhood, for it seemed to Elizabeth and Darcy as if every time they turned around, the woman was announcing another forthcoming bundle of joy. Mr. Wright served his family well, and he doted on each and every one of them.
"How does Mary do?" Elizabeth inquired of her brother-in-law.
Harry Wright grinned with pride, accepting a proffered glass of spirits from Darcy. "Very well. She tells me it shall be any day now," he answered Elizabeth with a fidgety twitter. "She asks me to inquire as to whether or not you will be up to sitting with her during her time? She says it means much to her to have you by her bedside."
"Of course I shall, Mr. Wright," Elizabeth confirmed hastily. "I have not missed one little Wright, and I am not about to now."
"Uh," Darcy stammered in nonsensical utterances. "Do you think that is wise, Elizabeth?"
"It shall do me no harm to tarry with my sister, dear. I shall make sure to rest often." Elizabeth looked to her husband, a smile of gratification on her face, "Besides you shall be excellent company for Mr. Wright."
A cornered Darcy had gone speechless at that moment. Experience told him he was not all that much company to himself during such stressful times, let alone that he would be any form of comfort to another expectant father. Mr. Wright was a hard worker, it was true, but he was also a man of few words, and even fewer consequential deeds. Darcy could not see how either of them could remain amused in each other's sole company for more than perhaps an hour at best.
Mr. Wright simply beamed his approval to his sister-in-law's plan, and poor, wretched Darcy was again caught into a commitment he was not sure he could own up to. That night as the man lay in his bed, he could not help but stare at the canopy above and sigh out loud.
"Why is it that women require a congregation of other women to sit with them during confinement?"
Elizabeth playfully rolled her eyes at her husband's innocence, "It is of great comfort to be surrounded by the wisdom and experience of our own sex at such an arduous time."
Darcy was truly perplexed. "I should think you would want to be left to yourselves, with very little interference from anyone excepting those who are absolutely necessary. I shall never comprehend the way women-folk scurry in and out of the room at such a time. If it were not for the sober expressions upon their faces, I should wonder that you are all having some sort of merry assembly."
"That is what men-folk get for thinking, Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth declared, an impertinent glint to her eyes. "Believe me, a laboring woman does not find herself all that merry."
Elizabeth reached an arm across the bed and grasped her husband's hand within her own, as the features upon her face betrayed her mischief. "There is not much chance of you getting out of sitting with poor Mr. Wright, dearest. At any rate, it shall be good practice for you come mid-summer."
A low groan escaped from the man, "I am not sure I really need the practice."
Darcy had been awoken from a sound sleep by Mrs. Reynolds knocking on the bedchamber door. He was surprised upon opening the door, to receive a message from Harry Wright, indicating that his wife Mary was at this hour put to childbed. Darcy dutifully woke up Elizabeth and the couple dressed in a hurry.
Sleepily, Darcy looked out the carriage window at the night sky as they traveled to the far side of Lambton. He wondered how he had managed to escape the births of the other four Wright children, then he recalled that Elizabeth had usually gone by herself, and that he or Harry Wright had not even been present for a few of the occasions as they had both been away on business.
Elizabeth snuggled closer to her husband, seeking his warmth and sensing his uneasiness at his situation. "You are very good to sit with poor Mr. Wright, dear. I do not believe a man can ever get use to such occasions, no matter how many children he has."
"Elizabeth," Darcy yawned. "I would consider that to be a sober understatement."
When the Darcys arrived at the humble house, Elizabeth checked on the other children, who were still asleep in their beds, then went to attend to Mary. Mr. Wright had stayed near his wife until assistance arrived, and he appeared into the hallway, looking quite chalky and extremely flustered by the experience.
"Harry," Darcy spoke softly.
Mr. Wright managed a peculiar smile, "Darcy."
"Here, here..." Darcy quickly motioned to a chair "...sit yourself down." Harry Wright wobbled to the chair and did as his brother-in-law instructed. Darcy sat across from him, with the utmost concern upon his features. "Can I get you something, a glass of water, a cup of coffee..." Darcy glanced at the poor man again, "...perhaps a stiff drink?"
Mr. Wright slowed his breathing, "A cup of coffee would be most welcome."
"Very good," Darcy said as he stood up, pulling on his waistcoat. "I will call for your servant, and you will have your cup of coffee."
Harry Wright looked at Darcy wryly, "The servant is in with the women, Darcy. We do not keep such an abundance of help as you do at Pemberley."
A groan came forth from Darcy, however much he tried to conceal it, upon the realization that he was completely alone and stuck with a nervous and helpless father-to-be. He reached out and laid a hand on Harry Wright's shoulder. "Stay where you are. I am fully capable of managing this myself."
Mr. Wright was somewhat amused as he watched his fastidious brother-in-law stride towards the kitchen in a bustle. It was some minutes, while the humble master of the house listened to his priggish relation slamming cupboards and drawers, occasionally letting out an ill-mannered and most curious expletive. Not long after, did Darcy reappear, producing two cups of hot coffee, and an absurd grin.
"Not bad, Darcy," Harry Wright offered the compliment.
"Hmm," Darcy grumbled. "I would say, we should do very well, until the pot of coffee your servant left in the hearth runs dry. Then we shall have to turn to the stouter stuff and hope for the best."
Both men felt some relief in their situation, having drank their coffee in silence. They looked at each other every now and then, each one of them beginning a meaningless conversation, only to have it die out within a few minutes. At one point, Darcy took a very good look at his unstrung brother-in-law. He grinned to himself, thinking what sort of a dolt he himself must have resembled during the times Elizabeth had born their children.
This time, he thought, things would be different. He was a wiser man, and he knew what to expect, and he was convinced he would be able to handle the birth of this child with the utmost control and composure. Here he was, looking at a man who had been through it five separate times, and still the poor soul could barely maintain any sort of sensible deportment whatsoever.
"So," Darcy bluntly broke the silence. "What shall it be this time, Harry?"
Harry Wright shrugged, "Well, we have two boys and two girls--I say another boy. They seem to come in order, boy, girl, boy, girl--you know."
Darcy pondered the odds of just such a likelihood. "What shall you name him?"
"I had not given it much thought. We have Terry and Laurence, Larry for short--perhaps we shall call him Parry, or maybe even Wendell."
Darcy sighed in an attempt to find the association of the name Wendell to all the rest. "I am partial to Wendell, I think. I seems a very nice name--different."
"Indeed," commented Harry Wright as he went back to tapping his boot nervously upon the floor.
Several more hours found the men in the same general state, excepting that Darcy had dozed off with his head propped up in his hand at the end of a divan. With a snort, he woke up to see Elizabeth come from the room. Both men stood up in a hurry, only to watch her scurry past them with a look of concern, complicated by a tense smile. It was not long until she scurried back down the hallway and returned to the room, without so much as a word to either gentlemen.
Mr. Wright looked somewhat nettled by the experience, but Darcy sat back down onto the divan with a restless groan and a glance out of the window. Dawn was lighting through the shutters, and soon the household was bustling with the appearance of children.
Larry, Terry, and their sisters, of whom Darcy could never remember their names, scurried out into the parlor demanding their breakfast, much like baby birds in the nest, their mouths at the ready. Neither man knew exactly what to do, for to their knowledge there was no one to prepare a meal. Had Darcy known this was to be the case, he would have packed up half the contingency of Pemberley and his own children and brought them over to add to the frenzy.
Being the prudent man that he was, Darcy took matters into his own hands and dared to knock upon the bedchamber door. Elizabeth answered, in not much of a good humor at all. "What is it, dear?"
"The other children are wanting their breakfast. If it is not too much bother, might you spare someone to cook it?"
Elizabeth whispered through her teeth, "Now is not a very good time, Fitzwilliam."
Darcy held out his hands in front of him, his pride not limited to pleading at the moment, "Elizabeth, please."
The servant hurried from the room, and with a sigh of relief, Darcy followed her to the kitchen. It did not take her all that long to whip up some sort of porridge and another pot of coffee, and she left poor Darcy standing in the middle of the kitchen, with a wooden spoon in one hand and a stack of ceramic bowls in the other.
Mr. Wright was fairly capable at rounding up the children and getting them seated, and Darcy thought the man probably had much practice at it. The nervous father finally sat down himself, with the littlest Wright on his lap. The little girl could not have been much more than a year old. Once everyone was seated and eating their porridge, Darcy poured himself another cup of coffee, stood in a corner, and drank it quite black.
"Will you not have some of this, Darcy?" Mr. Wright said between mouthfuls of the porridge which he fed to himself in one bite, then alternating another spoon to feed the little tot on his lap.
Darcy brought the cup of coffee to his lips, took another sip and gulped, "Thank you, no."
"Mr. Wright?" came a voice, and both men looked up in a dither. "Your wife is safely delivered of a son, sir." Harry Wright bolted up from his chair, the young child still in his arms, and wailing to be fed more of the porridge.
Faster than Darcy could say Îmidwife', did Harry Wright hand him the little girl and stride from the room with the messenger. Not before, nor since, has anyone seen such an expression on that Darcy gentleman's face. He scrupulously looked at the child in his arms, the porridge stuck all over her little face like paste meant to hang wallpaper. The poor man sat down dazed and numb, with no other alternative than to pick up where the child's father had left off.
When Elizabeth came into the room, she saw such a sight as she could never have imagined in all the years she would call herself Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy. There he was, her venerable husband, amid a frenzy of hungry children, with one perched on his lap covered in porridge. He looked quite like a humble nursemaid, except for the fact that he was jittery, and bore no house-bonnet. Elizabeth's hand came up to her mouth in shock and amusement and she proclaimed in an instant, "Mr. Darcy, what patience do you have! I will never again be surprised at anything that you do, for you are accomplished indeed!"
The music room in Pemberley house was filled with instruments collected over the years. A grand pianoforte occupied a good portion of the room, and a shapely harp rested in the corner. There was even a violin which Darcy was known to play on occasion, usually in accompaniment to his wife's talent at the piano. He was by no means a master at it, but he was competent enough to entertain his children with a tune or two, without great embarrassment to himself, or to anyone else.
Without a doubt the room held memories for the family, fonder than no others. It was in this room that Mr. Darcy completely lost his heart to Miss Bennet, so long ago. It was in the same room, after their marriage, that Mr. Darcy would sit and listen to Mrs. Darcy soothe him with a love song. The children adored being with their parents in the room, listening to their mother sing them songs of childhood, and hearing their father play ancient tunes, and then tell them the tales which accompanied. Music had been a part of many a good family in the neighborhood, and so it was at Pemberley.
Hannah sat on the bench at the pianoforte, her posture straight, and her mind attuned to the practice of her scales, as had been taught to her by her instructor. Her little dog, Mimi sat near her feet, in watchful reverence of a beloved owner.
Christian entered the music room, carrying the blanket he had been so fond of since his babyhood. He had almost given up the security, but within the last few days, had taken up the childhood accomplice once again. With a moan of lamentation, he sat down hard upon a divan, and Mimi lifted her head and gave him a soulful whine.
Not much longer after that, Andrew entered the room. "What are you doing?" he inquired of his siblings.
"I am practicing for half an hour," his sister replied, with a haughtiness to her tone. "I want to be as accomplished as Aunt Georgiana at the pianoforte."
The elder boy grinned, "It will take longer than that!"
"Where is Papa?" Christian murmured from underneath the blanket, which was perched on top of his head. "I wish he would play for us."
"He is busy," Andrew answered shortly. "He is in his study, and we must not disturb him until he is finished."
"Do you want to play a game, Andrew?"
Andrew grinned again, "I want to stay here and listen to Hannah make sounds as if she is stepping on chickens every time her fingers slip onto the wrong keys."
Christian giggled at such a silly metaphor, knocking the blanket off his head onto the floor in his merriment. To Hannah, her brothers' teasing was all very vexing. "Go away!" she called out in irritation.
Upon hearing the rankled voice of her master, Mimi jumped up and began to yap at the boys. Christian was not quick enough, and the small dog latched onto his blanket with her teeth and began to tug, furiously shaking her little black head. The harder Christian pulled on his treasured article of cloth, the tauter Mimi tugged on the other end.
"Stop it, Mimi!" he bellowed, then got up off the divan and pulled harder. The dog kept her hold on the cloth, and the force of Christian's tug caused the pup to lose her footing and be dragged across the slick wood floor, like the head of a dust mop with paws. Upon seeing this, Christian and Andrew began to laugh. It was not long until Christian was running around the pianoforte with Mimi being towed along as if she were on a toboggan.
The laughter was infectious between all of the children, at such a sight. "Go faster Christian!" Andrew shouted with glee, and Hannah giggled until her sides ached.
As with most of Christian's pranks and capers, the incident ended in disaster. A disaster at least in the eyes of one going on five years old. Much to the dismay of the youngsters present, Mimi let go. With a great clamor, the stand which held their father's violin was knocked backwards, propelling the instrument to the slick floor below.
Mimi was unharmed, and she ran to Hannah, who scooped her up into her arms. None of the three conspirators could believe their good fortune given the fact that no one in the house seemed to have overheard such a noise.
"Christian!" Andrew finally gasped after a moment of dismayed silence. "Papa will thrash you for sure!"
Christian's cheeks turned scarlet in color as he looked at the heap before him, "I did not do it, Andrew! You told me to go faster!"
"It is not my fault that Mimi let go!"
Hannah was incredulous, "It is not Mimi's fault!"
Andrew scampered over to the broken instrument and gingerly picked it up. It was severed in two pieces, the only things holding it together being the strings attached to both ends. He put it back on the stand and propped the two pieces back together until they rested in a reasonable, yet somewhat insecure fashion, then turned to his brother and sister, and shrugged.
Darcy had been extremely occupied that day, and he had not had occasion to see his children since breakfast that morning. He walked the halls of the house, thinking the utter silence very odd, yet not completely unwelcome.
"Mrs. Reynolds," he stopped upon seeing the housekeeper. "How quiet it is in here. Where might my family be hiding themselves?"
"Mrs. Darcy is resting in her chambers, and the children are upstairs in their rooms. They have been there for most of the day, playing quietly by themselves, sir."
Darcy arched a brow, for he had never taken into account that his children might have been so cooperative in sparing their mother of their liveliness. He was pleased and proud that they would take it upon themselves to act in such a sensible, and well-bred manner. To mark such an occasion, there was nothing left for him to do but to reward his children for their excellent behavior.
A little merry-making was what was needed this night, for Darcy's sake, for the children's sake, and especially for Elizabeth. Darcy calculated that he had but a few minutes to spare, and quickly dashed off for the music room to tune his violin, before the family sat down to supper.
"Well," Darcy said humbly as he settled into his place at the table. "What have you three done with yourselves today?"
Elizabeth glanced at her children, but instead of the cheerful little faces she was accustomed to seeing before her at the supper table, all she could see was the tops of three bowed heads. Unusual for his demeanor, Darcy did not press the issue of his question, but instead unfolded his napkin and placed it on his lap.
There was very little conversation at the table that night, and what transpired did so solely between husband and wife. Darcy inquired as to his wife's health, and she replied that she was feeling somewhat better. Instead of the elation Darcy expected from his children upon hearing that their mother was improving, he observed them sullenly push their food about on their plates.
"You are not a very jolly group this night," the father proclaimed as he finished his meal and sat back in his chair for another assessment of his offspring. "Perhaps a little celebration is in order, now that your mother is feeling better."
"That is a splendid idea," Elizabeth replied.
Darcy nodded his head at her agreement. "We could all retire to the music room," he smiled at his wife, "If you are up to it, my dear, you could play at the pianoforte and I could accompany you. I have not played my violin in quite some time."
With a sound resembling a gasp, Hannah began to bawl, and both her mother and father looked at her in curiosity. Hannah's sobs were soon joined by the whimpers and sniffles of Christian, and even Andrew hiccuped a time or two, then began to wipe the tears from his reddened cheeks.
Darcy grimaced uncomfortably, "Good god, my musical accomplishments have never quite solicited this sort of response, even in the most discriminating company."
Hannah could keep the secret no longer, as she sobbed beneath her long brown curls. "The violin is smashed into pieces, Papa!"
Elizabeth quickly looked to her husband. He was not a man who related any sort of shock at such a revelation, and she found this to be extremely curious. Darcy awaited the forthcoming finger-pointing from one child to the other, and the cries of "Not me, Papa! I did not do it! It was so-and-so."
"It is my fault, Papa," Andrew quickly admitted through his weeping.
"No, Papa!" Hannah stuttered and hiccuped. "I broke it!"
Christian cried harder, and he lifted his red little face toward his father to offer up his own confession. "It was me, Papa!"
Elizabeth was alarmed by the behavior of her children, particularly astonished that for once during the past few months it was someone other than herself sobbing uncontrollably. Darcy, on the other hand, was quite collected, for a man seated before three wailing children, except for the fleeting look of skepticism upon his brow.
"Settle down now," Darcy said lightly. "The violin can be repaired or replaced. However," his appearance hardened somewhat, "the next time something of this nature happens, I will depend upon you to tell me sooner, than later. Get yourselves to the music room, and your mother shall have to entertain us all."
"You are not going to thrash us?" Christian wondered.
Darcy nodded towards the doorway, "Do not press your luck." Each child got up from their places at the table and hurried toward the happy room.
After a few moments of silent reflection and coming to terms with their nerves, Darcy looked at Elizabeth, and Elizabeth gazed at Darcy. Neither showed a hint of sentiment upon their faces until Elizabeth caught a glimpse of a slight upturn appear at the corners of her husband's mouth. She grinned in her keen manner, expressing her favor with his composure, "I do believe you are acquiring forbearance, my dear Mr. Darcy."
As the days passed, Elizabeth discovered that with this child, she continued to have her good and her bad days. Not once however, did she fail to put her children into their beds, with a reassuring smile, and a tender goodnight kiss.
Elizabeth sat down at the edge of Christian's bed and tucked the covers in around her sweet son. He smiled up at her, and when she kissed his forehead, he closed his eyes, quite at ease that his dearest mother was near him.
"Do you know what day it is tomorrow?" Elizabeth asked, and Christian shook his head. "Tomorrow you will be five years old," she replied with a giggle akin to a child's.
"I will be caught up to Andrew?" Christian's eyes brightened.
"Oh no, dearest. Andrew will always be a little older." Elizabeth smiled at the disheartened boy, "But you are no longer a baby, for now you are a big boy."
Hearing this made Christian feel better, but he was not quite sure if he was willing to give up his place as the apple of his mother's eye. "Will I be older than the baby?"
"Oh, yes. You will always be the big brother to the baby. That is a very important position, for it is up to you to show the baby how to grow up with good sense and excellent manners."
Christian had to ponder this for a time, and Elizabeth left him to it. She extinguished the flame from the candle in his room, and softly called out her good night wishes.
Christian ran down the hallway towards his parents bedchamber as fast as his legs would carry him. Before he could turn the corner, he bumped right into the towering figure of his father. Darcy caught him before he fell backwards and he lifted the child up into the air.
"Am I five?" the boy squealed.
"You are five," Darcy laughed along with the joy of his son. He playfully placed Christian over his shoulder, carrying him towards the staircase. "What would you like to do today--for your birthday, that is?"
The boy ceased his giggling long enough to turn his head to reply, "What do you want to do?"
"Oh, I do not know," Darcy sighed wryly. "I suppose we could go to Lambton, have some sweets, pick out a present at the toy makers..." Darcy looked sideways at the boy "...take the violin to be repaired. But I asked what it is that you would like to do?"
"All of it?"
"Then we had better hurry," Darcy grinned, and father and son descended the staircase to have breakfast.
Darcy made good on his promise, and he and Christian began their excursion at the toy makers. Christian chose a toy, holding it out anxiously towards his father for his approval. Darcy nodded in agreement and Christian could barely contain his excitement, asking his father how many birthdays a person was allowed to have within a year. They stopped next at Burnside's and Christian picked out some candy he fancied from behind a cabinet window.
Darcy's attention was commanded momentarily by a neighbor who happened into the shop, and Christian wandered about. There was a young girl standing by the door, and she was the daughter of the man whom Darcy was engaged in conversation.
"Hello," Christian spoke up, with a large smile on his face.
The little girl extended a shy, yet polite curtsey, "Hello."
"What are you doing?"
"Waiting for my Papa."
"I am here with my Papa, too," Christian confessed, while holding out the bag of candy towards the girl. "Do you like candy?" The little girl nodded eagerly. "Well, then have some!" A look of importance came over Christian's pretentious face, "I am five, and I am not a baby anymore."
"Babies are much smaller than you," proclaimed the girl. "I know because we have one."
"We are going to have one too, and when we do, my Mama will be able to play with me again."
"Mamas do not have time to play when they have babies. Babies cry all the time, and they can not eat by themselves or anything else. My Mama takes care of the baby and my Papa takes care of his business, and that is about all."
This was news to Christian, and not very cheerful news at that. The little girl's father called out her name, and Christian watched her leave the shop. In the carriage, on the road back to Pemberley, Christian sat next to his father and stewed about what the little girl in the shop had told him.
"Papa, are babies small?"
"Yes," replied Darcy. "Very small."
"When can the baby play with us?"
"Oh, not for quite a while. Babies cannot even stand up by themselves for almost a year. They are very helpless beings, Christian, and they need constant attention."
A low groan escaped from the boy, "The girl at the shop said that Mamas only have time to take care of babies. Who will take care of me?"
Darcy thought when he looked down at his son's face, that he could see a hint of jealousy. In a moment, memories came back to him. He had to think hard about what he had felt when Georgiana had been born, and for an instant he recalled feeling a little put out.
"Christian, your mother has plenty of time and love for us all, but you must understand that the baby will need more help than anyone else. You were that small yourself once, we all were."
Darcy did not care to see the pout on his son's face as he acquainted the child with the particulars of a baby and confirmed what the girl in the shop had said. Christian was not at all easy, as everything he had heard was leading him to believe that the baby was to get all the attention, and he would get none. For the first time in Christian's tender years, he was truly jealous, and Darcy was not quite sure how to prevent it.
Fitzwilliam Darcy was indeed developing quite a good humor when it came to living with a wife who was almost eight months with child, and three children who never seemed to slow down for an instant. Elizabeth had happily returned to her responsibilities as mother and a few duties as mistress of the manor, and this took much of the pressure off of poor Darcy. He did not seem quite as unnerved about soon becoming a father again. He had maintained his sagacity, but with it came the patience he so much lacked on the previous occasions.
Elizabeth was happy to see this, for not only did she love the man so wholly, but she admired him and his willingness to lay aside his very nature for those he loved. With the weather now turning warmer and calmer, she teased her husband to walk with her and the children out about the lawn and a little ways down the path. She found that she could not venture far, even when assisted by her husband's arm, for she did tire easily these days.
It was on one such evening that they walked slowly down the path, the children running up ahead in constant wonder of things. When Darcy had thought that they had gone far enough, he turned to his wife, saying, "Let us go back now, Elizabeth. You do look very pale."
When they got back to the house, Darcy took Elizabeth to their room and helped her into their bed. Elizabeth appeared agitated, and her breath wheezed from her chest. Darcy began to fret at his wife's countenance, but Elizabeth reached out to grasp his hand in reassurance, realizing his distress.
"Dear," she breathed out and labored to smile. "Do not upset yourself, but I do think you should have someone fetch Mr. Graves."
Color left his face, and Darcy backed up from his spot next to Elizabeth's bedside, and before she could speak another word, he was gone from the room in a flurry. He returned seconds later, bending over her, brushing back the hair from her troubled face.
"What is it?" he exhaled fearfully.
"This baby is not very patient."
Darcy shook his head in earnest, "No my love, that cannot be. Even I know that infants are disposed to wait until the proper time."
This time Elizabeth did not find her husband's banter entertaining, and she closed her eyes and wished calm upon herself. Darcy slid to his knees next to the bed, and it soothed Elizabeth to listen to his benevolent voice, as he said over again, "It will be fine, Elizabeth. Everything will be just fine."
Mr. Graves did arrive quickly enough, and his opinion was that Elizabeth was not to get out of bed, until the proper time when the child was due to be born. The pains of untimely labor had subsided, and Elizabeth was greatly relieved, yet the thought of being confined for a month or more did very little to improve her spirits.
Darcy was beside himself with worry. He worried for Elizabeth and his unborn child, and he also worried a little for himself. It was one thing to wish to do something, as he had wanted to handle everything himself earlier when Elizabeth had needed the rest. It was something altogether different to be faced with having no choice in the matter.
That night, Darcy told his children that their mother would not be able to see them into bed, and kiss them goodnight. It was one of the most difficult things he thought he had ever had to do, and knowing that they understood none of it, made it all the more difficult.
Darcy had gone to his study, to try to think things through. He had a difficult time of it, for he realized their situation was not so desperate. He simply did not know what it was that he would do, for since he had been a parent, he had never truly been on his own. No bold answers or gallant resolutions entered his mind, and he sat back numbly.
"Sir," Mrs. White startled her employer from his thoughts, as she entered his study. "Christian wants his mother."
When Darcy made it to Christian's room and sat down upon his bed, the boy hastily wrapped his arms around his father's neck and quaked. "Something awful happened to Mama. I know by the way you look, Papa. I never seen you look like this before."
"No," Darcy replied, his face conspicuously buried in the boys tousled hair to hide his own trouble. "No, Christian. Nothing dreadful has happened to Mama."
"Do you swear it, Papa?"
Although in his heart he desperately wanted to swear it, Darcy's mind was not convinced that if he did, a promise to his son could be broken. He heard himself say, "Tomorrow you and I, and Hannah and Andrew--we will all have breakfast with your Mama in her room. That will make her very happy, I am sure."
Christian accepted his father's meager assurances, and nodded his pleasure of the plan. When the boy had gone back to sleep, Darcy crept back to his bedchamber to look at his wife. She lay dozing in their large bed, and he watched her for some time. Her breathing was rhythmic and peaceful, and Darcy let out an unsteady breath, almost afraid to let down his guard and believe that he was at liberty to relax his watch over her.
"Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth whispered softly.
"I am frightened."
Elizabeth had never expressed anything of the sort ever before in the time that she and Darcy had been married. She had never been one to express her fears, although her husband was well aware that she had them on occasion. Her ready declaration and disheartened voice took Darcy completely by shock, and he bent over to whisper in her ear.
"You have nothing to be frightened of, my love. Just a little more patience, and a little more prudence--and you will safely hold your child."
Elizabeth reached up to clutched her husband to her, trying to draw every ounce of heart he had to give, for herself. Darcy never budged from the spot, until his beloved Elizabeth had fallen back to sleep. Then he inched away, brushing his lips against her cheek, admitting in a faithful hush, how much he truly loved her.
The Darcys kept the news of Elizabeth's confinement to themselves, but word of it did spread around the small town of Lambton. Harry Wright called at Pemberley, wanting to know what he and Mary could possibly do. He found his brother-in-law in quite a state. Darcy was reserved, but it was much different than his usual demeanor. Mr. Wright thought his brother to be lacking the certain aire he always possessed, call it pride if you will, but it distressed him greatly to see that it had taken leave.
"Harry," Darcy spoke unemotionally. "I would appreciate your discretion in keeping this news to yourselves. Elizabeth fears that if word of it got to Longbourn, her family would certainly come north. The best thing for her is calm and quiet."
With an irresolute nod, Harry Wright had to agree, but he could not help but feel that Darcy required some sort of comfort, and was simply too proud to ask for it. When Harry Wright got back to his humble home, he spoke to his wife, and Mary agreed. Mr. Wright saddled a horse, and left for Cheshire immediately.
"Bingley!" Darcy called out upon seeing his good friend in his house. "I did not know you were to be in Derbyshire."
Charles Bingley smiled patiently at his friend. "Jane is with me as well, Darcy. She has gone up to see her sister." Darcy's smile faded as he felt betrayed. "I know what you are thinking, Darcy. Do not blame Harry Wright, he is very concerned, especially for your sake. He says you do not resemble your noble self, and I would have to agree."
"I can manage things on my own, Bingley," Darcy turned away from his friend in haste.
"You have always managed things on your own, Darcy--that is not to be questioned. How many times have you and Elizabeth done for someone else? It is not a blemish on your pride to need your family on occasion."
Darcy sat down upon a chair, overcome and dim. "You know how desperate it is to want to protect your family, Charles. To want to make everything right, and leave nothing to chance."
"I know how it is, Darcy." Bingley paced the length of the room, then settled on a spot before his friend and offered up a proposition. "Darcy, do let us take the children back to Greywood. It will be one less burden on your shoulders at present, and they will be happy to be with their cousins."
"They are not a burden, Charles," Darcy admitted openly. "They simply do not understand. There are times when I think they are envious of something they have yet to see."
"They are use to having you and Elizabeth to themselves. Their envy will not last for long."
"We have tried our best to raise them with the comprehension that they do not have to compete to own our affection. What will they think if I cast them off somewhere else, only to come back to find that one so small has taken their place?"
Bingley showed the signs of losing patience with his friend. "Do you really believe Elizabeth capable of that? Would you really believe it of yourself--that you could show partiality of one over the other?"
Darcy frowned, "No." With a deep breath he sat up taller, and with the resolve common to the character of the man, he said, "I will have to tell Elizabeth."
"No!" Elizabeth exclaimed as a maid propped a pillow behind her, upon her request. "Fitzwilliam, how could that be of any help to us?"
"I am not sure, Elizabeth."
"You are not sure?" Elizabeth questioned her husband, flippantly. "I have never known you to really be unsure of anything. What happened to the prudent Mr. Darcy?"
"That is enough," Darcy hissed his irritation with himself for his weaknesses, and with Elizabeth for pointing them out. The maid curtsied and quickly left the room, fully aware from the master's dark gaze that he wished it of her.
"You are the only being on earth who can bring me to my knees with a word," Darcy confessed to his wife. "Prudent!" he seethed again. "Do you think I take pleasure seeing you here where I know you cannot be happy? Do you think I would keep you from your children if it were not necessary to do so?"
Elizabeth looked away from her husband, her cheeks flushed with the shame of her mean outburst. "No," she whispered.
Darcy's temper softened into devotion as he gazed at the woman he loved, and sighed out freely. "I remember telling you once, in this very room and in that very bed, of how it should hurt me to know that you were ever unhappy here with me. I meant it, Elizabeth."
Darcy's affection was matched by that of his wife, as she began to weep. "Somehow, I think at the moment you are more unhappy than I."
"It will only be for a few weeks. It will be good for our children to realize Pemberley is not the only place in the world, and that we are not the only people who populate it."
Darcy turned to leave, but after a brief hesitation, he turned back again. "Yes," he whispered as if hoping no one would hear him, "Sometimes I am not so sure what I choose is good enough. At times I wonder if there is much heart to be found in one prone to such prudence."
Mrs. White packed her trunks and those for the Darcy children, and waited down at the carriage for Mr. Darcy to see them off on their journey. The children said goodbye to their mother, and Elizabeth did not shed a tear, until they left the room and the door was securely closed. Darcy took them downstairs and the children stood before the carriage, in order of height and age and tried their best not show their father how miserable they were to leave.
"You will be on your best behavior?" Darcy inquired soberly. They all nodded silently, and he forced a smile on his face and lifted his chin. In affection for their beloved father they each mimicked him. "Your Aunt and Uncle Bingley will take good care of you, and I shall take very good care of your Mama while you are gone. You can depend upon it."
"But Papa," Christian swallowed hard. "Who will take good care of you?"
Elizabeth occupied her hands with her embroidery, but her mind was in a whirl, wondering what it should be like to not see her precious children each day. She would have been angrier with her husband's decision, had she not been convinced that he was as unhappy to see them go as she was herself.
"Bingley's carriage is on its way back to Cheshire," Darcy stated. Elizabeth said nothing, nor did she look up at her husband, as she continued to examine the stitches in the cloth. She heard him sigh, "What has been done, has been done for the best." Elizabeth laid her embroidery down on her lap, still unable to look up.
Darcy sat down on the bed next to her, fidgeting with the cuff of his shirt in his discomfort at being so lamentably ignored. "You know," he began. "I can remember everything you have said to me over the years, Elizabeth. It is all in my head, imprinted there like words on a page, and pages in a book. Sometimes when I am alone with my thoughts I recall certain things, like how you tease me about being so unbending." Darcy shrugged slyly as he added in jest, "Although I believe you are excessively harsh on me on that score."
Darcy stole a glance at his wife, and seeing that he had caught her curiosity he continued. "Then there are the times I have recollected your disapproval of certain other aspects of my character. I can recite your words on those--not too fondly, mind you--but I can do it."
Darcy could see Elizabeth wrinkle her nose, trying her best to keep silent. In a humorous way, he felt obligated to take advantage of the respectful silence. "Sometimes, when I am particularly convivial in disposition," he went on with his soliloquy, "I recall those things you have whispered in my ear. Those tender things that a husband longs to hear from a beautiful and willing wife. I use to count how many times you said the words ÎI love you'."
Darcy sighed at the memory as Elizabeth's interest caused her to elevate her brow. "Trifling, I know," he admitted. "But, I like hearing it. I pray that you will never stop speaking to me, Elizabeth. Your words are what keep me sincere. Never think that I do not listen, or that I do not take them to heart--because I do."
"A quiet household I fear you shall never have, Mr. Darcy." Elizabeth could not help but laugh, as she saw her husband grin from ear to ear. "Will you take me to the windows, and help me to the chaise there so I shall not feel so idle?"
Darcy did as his wife asked, and they sat together, looking out across the lawns at the landscape of their home. Darcy glanced back at Elizabeth, noticing her beautiful complete figure. "I love you," he told her honestly.
Elizabeth smiled, "And I love you."
"I am getting curious to know what this child will be like," Darcy pondered aloud. "Our children are all agreeable in their own way, each one different, yet each one just as loving as the next--and each one as determined to get under my skin, in one way or another. They are very spirited children, Elizabeth. In your present state, I think you would be grateful in the long run, that I am so unbending."
Elizabeth sniffled, "They are not gone a half hour, and I miss them dreadfully already."
"Papa," Andrew whispered from behind his parents. "We found the book where you told us to look for it. Now are you going to read it to us all, like you said?"
Elizabeth cast a look of wonder toward her husband, but not without a prodigiously happy grin. "Unbending indeed, sir."
Elizabeth moved to turn her body over in bed as gracefully as she could. She was losing her patience with her immobility, and as she gazed at her husband's serene frame next to her, she devilishly wished he knew what it was to lack a good nights rest due to a constant plight of pins and needles. She succeeded in offering a pleasant smile as Darcy's eyes opened in the light of the morning. "Did you sleep well?" he had the impertinence to inquire groggily, but Elizabeth took it all in good humor and rolled her eyes at her situation.
"I am quite eager for this baby to come. For such a little one to be so anxious only a month ago, he is now quite determined to be patient."
"He?" Darcy inquired.
"He or she," Elizabeth grinned. "What are we to call this one, Mr. Darcy?"
Darcy smiled and slightly shook his head for lack of an answer. "You do remember the conditions, do you not?"
"Yes," Elizabeth laughed playfully. "No name that has been given before to a Darcy. They are each their own person, and must have their own name. I remember."
"Their own person," Darcy reiterated with a gaze toward the heavens in paternal design. "With their own lives, their own fortunes, their own virtues--and us left to grow old, with our pride in each and every one."
"Their own virtues?" Elizabeth grinned at his dogmatic choice of words, then kissed her husband's cheek. Darcy did have his own imminent way of thinking of their children, and at times it gave Elizabeth concern to think that Darcy might one day suffer disappointment. She hoped it would never come to be, for even though her young children seemed to consume her life these days, Darcy did always come foremost in her heart.
It was difficult to imagine, but Darcy practically chuckled at himself. He wondered if he was hoping for too much, and with thoughts extending far into the future, he prayed that he would do right by his brood. He wondered exactly how one went about inspiring greatness, but then as he let out a sigh, he was convinced it would happen by no remarkable deed. "A day at a time," he thought, and decided he and Elizabeth were on the correct path and need not push them too hard.
He sat up in the bed, "I must go into Lambton today. Is there anything you are in need of, my dear?"
"You will not be gone long, will you?" Elizabeth asked with interest.
"A good part of the day," Darcy answered her, then cocked his brow warily in her direction. "Why?"
Elizabeth shook her head innocently, "No particular reason."
Darcy had been gone for only an hour when anxiety fell over Elizabeth, that this time, the baby was not to wait any longer. She had quite had enough of occupying a bed, so she removed herself to the nursery, and sat rocking in the chair, as travail fell upon her quickly. She had gone from the beginnings of discomfort, to more desperate birth pangs in less than two hours. The only person in the household she had informed had been Mrs. Reynolds, and the housekeeper decided it was high time to fetch the midwife and see about finding the master.
With the household alerted, Mrs. Reynolds went back to sitting with the mistress. "Ma'am, I have sent word to Mr. Graves and Mrs. Sprigg, and a man has gone to find Mr. Darcy."
"Very good," Elizabeth sat back in the chair, smiling tensely. "I was sure it was to take longer than this. I really saw no reason to put Mr. Darcy through such tedious hours of waiting. He does not have the patience for it."
"Indeed, ma'am," Mrs. Reynolds was quick to agree.
"Had I known it was to come on so quickly this time, I would never have let him escape." Mrs. Reynolds smiled at the mistress's attempt at good spirits. "Did you send for my sister as well?"
"Oh dear, ma'am," Mrs. Reynolds gasped. "I was in such a state, it quite escaped me to have someone bring the news to Mrs. Wright. Pray, forgive me!"
"Oh, Mrs. Reynolds. Do not let it trouble you. Under the circumstances, I can see how these things could be missed." Elizabeth took in a deep breath, as another wave of discomfort overcame her. Mrs. Reynolds went to call a servant to send word of Elizabeth's confinement to the Wrights, however Elizabeth called out to her frantically. "Please, do not go just yet--until someone else is here to sit with me!"
"No, ma'am!" the kind housekeeper turned back around and remained next to her mistress's side. "I will not leave until you wish it."
It seemed a lifetime until the physician was seen at Pemberley. The morning had been busy with other patients, and he bore the news that the midwife was attending Magistrate Gamble's wife, and would be there for some time. "It seems a good day for babies," Mr. Graves nodded prophetically as he took a look at Elizabeth. "I suppose we shall have to do this ourselves."
An appeal ardently escaped Elizabeth's lips as another pain consumed her, "I should feel better knowing my husband was at least in the house!"
"Yes, yes, my dear--he will be here," the good physician assured her in the comforting way he had always attended her. "Your good people will find him, and if I know him as well as I think I do, he will be here in no time at all, and bellowing to know exactly how you are."
"My children! Are they being looked after properly?"
"Mrs. Darcy," the physician gently coaxed her up from the chair. "I assure you that there is nothing more you need think of at the moment, than the prospect of this child arriving very soon.
"Where is he!?" Elizabeth shouted abruptly in her exertions. "How is it possible..." she stopped to labor again, "...that he cannot be found?"
"Ma'am," Mrs. Reynolds replied, sensitive for the heightened feelings of her mistress. "Mr. Darcy had just left the solicitors office when the man arrived, and he did not give word where he was going next."
"Search at the mill, the assessor's office, even the pub for heaven's sake!" Elizabeth spewed out earnestly.
"Ma'am!" Mrs. Reynolds answered in shock.
"Has no one gone to fetch my sister?"
Mrs. Reynolds shook her head, and Mr. Graves looked to the housekeeper, "Hurry good woman! If it will give Mrs. Darcy comfort to have someone else present, then for goodness sake, fetch her sister!"
A knock upon the door jostled the housekeeper from a well deserved rest at the humble house of Harry Wright. The woman's footsteps were heard scurrying down the hallway toward the parlor, while another's followed quickly behind her. The moment the two servants opened the doors, the Wrights gentleman caller turned around.
"Mr. Darcy, sir!" the man from Pemberley called aloud. "We have been searching high and low for you!"
Darcy wasted no time in returning to Pemberley posthaste, with Harry and Mary Wright following close behind. Although he had told himself this time was to be different for him, the well-acquainted panic he had felt before, set into Darcy's bosom. He scrambled down from his horse and skidded through the back doors of the house with a great clamor rarely seen by such a man.
Mrs. White had taken the children outdoors to play, away from the harried atmosphere of the house. They had seen their father return, and they ran as quickly as they could across the lawns towards his worried figure. It was as if he had not even seen them, as he flew past and into the house. They looked after him in disbelief, that he should not have greeted them with the usual hugs and kisses, then they glanced up at their governess in pitiable wonder for some sort of explanation.
"Come children," Mrs. White said tenderly. "Your father is very busy at present. He will see you shortly enough."
Darcy clambered upstairs, his long legs scrambling for forward momentum as his boots skidded across the slick floors. As soon as he rounded the corner of the nursery, Mr. Graves opened the door.
"Good god, sir!" Darcy bellowed. "Tell my wife I am here, will you!"
"Mr. Darcy," the good physician spoke calmly. "If you do not cease drawing in breath as you are, I shall have to attend to you also. I have seen many a healthy man sprawled out cold on the floor for less gasping and sputtering."
With a turbulence marked in his eyes, Darcy failed to comply with the advice of the physician. He continued to stammer out questions and answers as rapidly as he could. "Do you not think you are needed inside, man? Do tell me how my wife does, and then I shall leave you to..." Darcy looked to the sky for heavenly help in expressing what he was attempting to say "...to whatever it is you are required to do! Mrs. Darcy's sister is behind me, and...and..."
"Good sir," Mr. Graves laid a hand on the poor man's shoulder and chuckled. "Your wife is very well--and so is your newborn child."
There was a very long and disquieting pause, as Darcy tried to utter something profound. "So soon?" was all the poor stunned soul could mumble.
"Mr. Darcy, sir," the physician grinned willfully. "Infants have patience for no man."
Darcy's numb legs somehow got him into the room and to a chair close to the bed. He sat down in a daze, and looked at his wife who was wearied yet smiling, and he whispered in profound wisdom, "I am late."
Elizabeth nodded, "I did try to wait for you, but to no avail."
Not to Elizabeth's amazement Darcy laughed abruptly, and swiped a hand through his hair as he did when he was known to be tense. "How do you feel?" he asked as quickly as he had laughed before.
"Yes, of course," he snorted with a twitter at his own absurdity.
Elizabeth's eyes brightened, for Darcy's countenance was such a sight to behold. She thought she should help him along as well as she could and she inquired, "Do you want to see the baby, Fitzwilliam?"
"Yes," his voice fractured. "Yes!"
Darcy was silent as his eyes caught sight of the child, its dimpled arms and legs wriggling as it was laid at Elizabeth's side. Elizabeth carefully pushed the soft blanket away from the baby to give her husband a better view.
"Look at how fair she is, Fitzwilliam," the proud mother announced as she ran her fingers ever so gently across the child's honey-colored wisps of hair. "Would you have ever thought to see such a pretty little baby girl?"
In the years of their marriage, Elizabeth could only recollect a handful of occasions upon which Darcy had wept. Most of those had come upon his first laying eyes on his newborn children. She waited with sympathetic patience, as tears welled in his eyes and he swiped a hand across his face, for Elizabeth alone knew what a gentle heart Darcy truly possessed.
"She is beautiful, and so is her mother." His dewy eyes looked lovingly into his wife's, "What have you decided to name her?"
Elizabeth's face was ethereal, and she motioned to Darcy to lean closer. He did so, and she whispered to him, "A virtue did enter my mind as she came into the world."
"What was that?" Darcy whispered in turn.
Joyful was the day when the fourth child was christened Prudence Helaine Darcy. It did not take long for her brothers and sister to realize that their family was happier with Prudence, than without. Nor did it take them long to know that their parents had love and patience enough for them all. There was some jealousy amongst them at first, but that was quite understandable, and as they all grew older they cherished each others company and were truly proud of what the other would accomplish.
Andrew was in fact the most prudent of them all. As he grew into a man, his mother could not easily tell the difference between father and son, excepting that the father was a little gray about the temples. There was nothing more consequential to Andrew than to have the approval of his model in life, and Darcy was comforted that at least one child seemed to heed his best advice. When the time came, Andrew was as proud as any Darcy who had come before him to be master of Pemberley Estate. However, he had the good sense to know that he should have to be worthy of the esteem of others, and that others should not be required to believe that because he came from an excellent family that he was without faults.
Hannah was the most patient of all her siblings put together. She was disposed to help them through their troubles, much like a mother herself. She was indeed the image of Elizabeth, though with the sweet countenance of her dear Aunt Jane. It was to the great loss of her family, on the day she left Pemberley to become the wife of an esteemed young man. However, her family's pride in her honor to match her husband's prominence far outweighed their own sorrow at seeing her go.
Christian had every sense of justice that a man could possess. He did love his parents most faithfully, and although he grew to be a different sort of man than Darcy, they found that they had the best of times together when things were not so serious. Christian took up the violin, and father and son played their instruments together, although the son excelled at it far more than the father could have ever hoped for himself. He felt it his duty to watch over his sisters, for given his height and physique, he could easily discourage the wrong sort of man from seeking only his sister's fortunes. When it came to managing the estate which his uncle had bequeathed him, Christian proved himself worthy and always tried to do what he thought just. With his easy humor and fetching smile he never lacked for the admiration of a lady, and when he finally did set his mind to offering his hand in marriage to one such lucky woman, he made sure his mother liked her best of all.
Then there was Prudence. Although her father always thought she did not possess much of the virtue her name implied, she had her own undeniable goodness. She preferred to test her father's forbearance as often as she could, running barefoot across the lawns of her home after cooling her feet in the lake. Her hair remained the color of a lion's mane and she could never stand to have it confined. It always seemed to be billowing a step behind her, in her excitement to rush from place to place. The repentance in her eyes was perhaps not as genuine as it could have been, when her father cast her a look of disapproval for behaving in such an ill-bred manner. However, Prudence had all the hope a young woman could possess, and love enough to give to every being, every creature, and every idea.
For the moment however, Mr. And Mrs. Darcy delighted in their young children. Their progeny often times made them laugh, and at times they made them cry, but they never truly gave them cause for serious grief. It was late the night of the christening, and everyone had since gone to sleep. Darcy and Elizabeth stood close to one another, looking down at their tiny daughter as she lay slumbering in the cradle next to their bed.
"Ah, success is ours, my love," Darcy sighed in too loud of a whisper.
"Hush, sir!" the mother retorted nervously. "If you do not keep your voice down you shall be doomed to play that violin once again."
"I have played Bloomsberry Market five times through already," Darcy protested with widened eyes. "I find myself wishing the little darling would take to some other tune--and quickly."
Elizabeth giggled at her husband's charming banter, and although she tried to muffle the sound under her palm, Prudence began to fuss and wail. Darcy let out a groan of failure behind his weary features, and picked up the violin and bow he had placed at the foot of the bed. He thought it astonishing what a father had to go through for the appeasement of his children, but as he came to value the prospect of an hour or two of continuous sleep, he consented to play the tune at least one more time through.