A Bit Of Fluff

By Heide

Invitations to the ball at Heathgate Manor to take place in January arrived for the Darcys the last week of December.

"You know you must go, William, for the girls will not give you one minute of peace if you do not take them," Elizabeth told her husband.

"You mean Kitty will not give me one minute of peace. I'm sure Georgiana is just as content to stay home. I do not like going to balls without my wife. This is the fourth one already and the Harrises are the most senseless people I know."

"I'm sure it is only the third. I am rather pleased our neighbors invite us to so many. My inferior upbringing is apparently overlooked by more than you. Of course, my condition is common knowledge. The Harrises know I can not possibly come to pollute their halls." Elizabeth smiled mischievously.

"I know you are teasing me. No one considers you inferior or tainted and certainly not the Harrises." Darcy reached down to kiss her smile. "Elizabeth, after the baby is born I will escort the girls to all the balls they want to go to and then you can come with me. It is settled. Tell them we shall have our own ball here at Pemberley in the spring when you are better."

"Dearest, I am not ill. I am feeling quite well right now."

Darcy smiled sheepishly, as Elizabeth continued. "A ball at Pemberley is just the thing. We owe so many people. Georgiana will be eighteen in April and I'm sure everyone in the neighborhood is anxious to see what I've done to your home. But you may tell Kitty and Georgiana they can not go to the Heathgate Ball."

"Elizabeth, you know I am not much good with excitable young ladies," Darcy objected. "If there are tears, I will be quite powerless."

"Then it's time you learned to handle willful young ladies. If the Bennet family history is any indication, you will some day have a houseful of them."

Catherine Bennet looked morosely out the window of the music room at the gray day.

"I am so bored. Pemberley is a beautiful place but there is nothing to do in the winter. All it does is rain and make my frock muddy if I go walking. Now that your brother says he will not take us to the ball, I will go distracted."

Her companion, Georgiana Darcy tried to console her disheartened sister-in-law. "Things will change soon, Kitty, when the baby is born. I can not wait."

"Oh, that is not for weeks and weeks. Besides, a baby will not make my life more exciting."

Georgiana looked surprised. "Aren't you eager to be an aunt?"

"You forget I am an aunt already to Lydia's Nell. Oh, babies are very sweet for a little while but then they go all red in the face and wail and squirm. Little Nell grabbed my hair while I held her and pulled my curl so hard it went straight. I had to run upstairs to curl it again before Captain Stevens came for dinner."

Kitty fell silent for awhile so Georgiana went back to her book. She was happy for her sister-in-law's company but sometimes she looked forward to solitude when she could just be with her books or music. There were very few moments of that since Kitty had arrived in November.

"Georgiana," Kitty said breaking her concentration again. "Do you think Mr. Darcy would let my mama take us to the ball? She will be here in ten days and I should think would be very eager to go."

"I don't know. I suppose it would not be improper."

"Will you ask him?" Kitty asked hopefully.

"Oh no. It is your idea and desire to go to Heathgate Manor. You may ask him."

"I am not afraid of Mr. Darcy. I shall ask him directly," and Kitty flounced out of the room.

When he was not riding through his estate, checking on his property and tenants, Darcy spent much of his time in his wife's rooms. She spent most of her day upstairs in her sitting room where she liked to read or write letters. Soon her favorite sister Jane would be living in the neighborhood. Then she would not need to write so many letters, but by then her child would be born and her time would be spent elsewhere.

This afternoon, Elizabeth was embroidering a baby's cap. Darcy had brought some of his account books to the sitting room, where he looked over them while conversing comfortably with his wife. A tentative knock was heard on the door and Kitty peeked in.

"Yes Kitty," Elizabeth prompted.

"May I have a word with you both?" Kitty asked, relieved she had found Darcy with her sister. Spending two months under the same roof with him had not lessened the awe she had of him.

"Mr. Darcy," Kitty began in a rush. "With Mama coming so soon to stay with us and Lizzy's baby not coming until weeks after that, I fear she will grow bored and you know, Lizzy, how irritated Mama can be when she is bored and how she finds every little thing wrong or she is not comfortable enough and she drives everyone to distraction, so I thought if we enticed her with a ball, you know, the ball at Heathgate Manor, she will forget to annoy everyone. She would be a proper chaperone for Georgiana and I and then, you know Mr. Darcy, you need not go at all."

"What did you say Kitty?" Darcy asked. "You spoke too quickly for me to comprehend you."

Kitty looked crestfallen to think she would have to race through everything again.

"Dear, she thinks Mrs. Bennet would like to go to the ball at the Harrises and can take your place so you need not go," Elizabeth interpreted.

"Oh, I see. Well, I don't wish to impose on your mother, Kitty, and I am not sure if it is satisfactory for three women to travel eight miles at night without a gentleman."

The younger sister looked close to tears. "Oh, please, do consider it. It is of course for Mama's sake that I want to go and you know..."

"Kitty," Elizabeth interrupted, "Mr. Darcy will consider it."

Kitty brightened, knowing that her sister could get Mr. Darcy to do anything she wanted. She slipped quickly out of the room before her brother-in-law could call her back.

Elizabeth looked mischievously at her husband. "This is only the beginning, you know. Kitty will never let you rest unless you come up with a solution for her to go. I think nothing bad would come of it. Mama has met the Harrises and I think has found her equal in Mrs. Harris for being high-strung and giddily outspoken."

"But your mother... is she, well, I mean, can she control Kitty, I mean, both girls?" Darcy did not like to speak too harshly of his mother-in-law's parental authority.

"Mama may not be the best chaperone for Kitty, but I do not think Georgiana needs any control - she would more likely be able to control Kitty and then our problem would be solved."

"So you want your mother to go with the girls?"

Elizabeth smiled sweetly. "Only if you do, dearest."

Darcy walked over to his wife and sat next to her. She nestled comfortably under his arm.

"Did I always give you your own way even before the child?" Darcy asked.

"Hardly. There was at least one time I remember when you left me behind at Longbourn to come to Pemberley and I wanted very much to go with you."

"Lizzy, we weren't even married then."

"All the more reason for you to give me my own way. I might still have had time to back out of our engagement. Now you may do whatever you want for I am stuck with you."

She looked up at her husband so he could kiss her and, as usual, he obliged.

"Oh no, I could not do that! Leave Lizzy for even one night during her time of need? A daughter needs her mother now. There is no ball more important than keeping watch over my Lizzy." Mrs. Bennet let everyone know she had arrived.

"But Mama," Kitty wailed.

"Mama, for one night I shall surely be all right. I thought you would enjoy going to the Harrises. You remember you met them last summer," Elizabeth reasoned.

"It will be a sacrifice not to go but I will gladly bear it for I know you need me," Mrs. Bennet said. "Surely your husband would not approve of me leaving you to go off gallivanting."

"He wants you to enjoy yourself," Lizzy offered.

"Then I shall stay here. I could not enjoy myself knowing the condition you are in. And you are very large, my dear. I am sure I was never quite so big. Oh, I hope you are carrying a son! Then Mr. Darcy will never have any reason to be cross with you."

Lizzy rolled her eyes at her sister. She knew she had lost the argument and Kitty would have to bear the loss of the ball. Kitty, however, had other ideas.

"All is not lost," Kitty confided in Georgiana when they were alone. "My sister Jane will be settling in her new home in Leicestershire next week. Surely she and Mr. Bingley will take us to the ball."

"But they will come just one week before the ball," Georgiana reasoned. "They will not be prepared to attend a ball so soon. And I am sure they do not even know the Harrises."

"Oh, your brother can introduce them when they come. I know Mr. Bingley loves to dance. He will want to go and Jane too. I will tell Lizzy of my idea."

Part C

With Mrs. Bennet always hovering nearby, it was difficult for Darcy to spend as much time alone with his wife as he would like. Once the baby came, he knew his time with Elizabeth would be even more precious, so he encouraged his mother-in-law to take over some of the managing of the household from Elizabeth. Although it was a terrible imposition on Mrs. Reynolds, his long time housekeeper, he hoped she would forgive him. He knew Elizabeth would not mind.

Husband and wife walked through the solarium together. Elizabeth was not encouraged to come downstairs, for the staircase was so long, but the January days were too short. She needed as much sun and cheer as she could find.

"Are you tired yet?" Darcy asked attentively.

"A little but I need the exercise. I am so tired of doing nothing and going nowhere. Let me have your arm though so I can walk a little longer."

As Elizabeth tucked her arm into his, she continued. "If I would not shock the entire county, I would be tempted to take Kitty and Georgiana to the ball myself."

Darcy laughed. "That would raise a few eyebrows."

"You know that Kitty is going to ask Charles to take her and Georgiana. What do you think of that?" Elizabeth asked.

"I think that Kitty's persistence is getting a little wearying and I shall be happy when she goes back to Longbourn with your mother."

"Hmm. So Mama is here but five days and you are ready for her to leave too?"

"I did not say that. She has not been a bother, for I stay out of her way. I know she is here to help you, and you need her right now."

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "I think I could manage very well with all the help I have here in the house. But nothing could keep Mama away, and I suppose I don't have that right to keep her from her grandchild."

"Jane will be able to deflect some of your mother's attentions once the Bingleys arrive. And I suppose the girls will be taken care of quite well, if Charles and Jane agree to take them to Heathgate. I suppose I must make the introductions."

"You are a very good brother." Elizabeth reached up to kiss him. "And a better husband."

She stopped walking and stretched her back. "I think you can take me back upstairs again. I have had all the exercise I can take for one afternoon."

Happy was the day when the Bingleys arrived in Leicestershire to settle in their new house. The very next day after their arrival, they came to pay a visit to their very dear friend and sister.

"Oh Jane, it is so wonderful to always have you near," Lizzy exulted when she was alone with her favorite sister. "There are so many things I want to talk to you about that I can never fit in a letter."

"How I've missed you," Jane said. "You are looking so beautiful."

"You are much too kind. I know I am a cow."

"Oh truly, Lizzy, you are not. I am so happy for you. But then I am always happy. Being married is all I had hoped for."

"Really? What do you like best about being married?"

"I don't know," Jane answered. "So many things. If I had to name one I suppose it is the comfort of being taken care of, just sitting together, not saying anything. I love best being with Charles after dinner when he will just watch me sew."

"He'll just watch you? How patient your husband is. William would be exceedingly bored watching me sew. My favorite time is when we're in bed."

Jane looked shocked and started to blush.

"No, I don't mean that," Elizabeth laughed. "I'm sorry, it came out wrong. I mean that is the only time I can be sure I can be alone with him and not be interrupted. We just talk. At least that's all we do these days. First it was Georgiana, then Kitty. We had visitors all the time, and now Mama is here. And there are so many servants, one never knows when one will come knocking on the door."

Jane looked shyly at her sister. "Perhaps soon I will take some of your visitors away. Lizzie, I wanted to tell you in person rather than in a letter. I am expecting a child."

Joy lit up Elizabeth's face. "No! Oh Jane, how wonderful. You are so wonderful to move near us and now to provide cousins for my children too! What friends our children will be." She held our her arms for Jane to fill them. "May I tell Fitzwilliam?"

"Certainly. Everyone may know, but I expect Charles has told your husband by now."

Part D

"A toast to Charles and Jane." Darcy raised his glass. "Your family wishes you much joy in your new roles and comfort as you watch your children grow."

"Here, here," Mrs. Bennet agreed and drank heartily from her own glass.

As Darcy stood by the window with his friend he whispered "You're in for a very interesting time, Bingley. While I've enjoyed most of it, I'm looking forward to the end of this business and getting my wife back."

"What are you whispering about over there?" Elizabeth called from the sofa. "I hope you're not commiserating over your bad luck to have each of your wives in such a fragile state."

"Jane, I am sure you will not want to sit at home all the time the way Lizzy does," Kitty put in.

"That is hardly fair," Elizabeth said. "I have only been so lumbering for two months now and hope to be back to my walks in just a few weeks more."

"You will do no such thing," Mrs. Bennet scolded. "You must stay in bed at least a week after the baby is born, better two. And then you must be very careful. I do not recommend the stairs for at least a month."

Kitty looked over at Georgiana in exasperation for she was trying to get the ball into her conversation. Now her mother would not stop.

"This is all nonsense, Lizzie, about you bringing a wet nurse into the house to feed the baby. You should send the child out and not have so many strangers in your house."

"Mama, I am not having a child just so I can send him off to someone who he will think more likely to be his mother than I!" Elizabeth turned to Jane and whispered "I am nursing myself in the beginning and by the time Mrs. Johnson has her own baby, she will come into the house and nurse both hers and mine. She does not have a husband, though she calls herself Mrs., and I think will be glad to get away from her own house."

Elizabeth felt the subject delicate enough to be embarrassed talking of such a thing in the same room as the gentlemen but they were engrossed in conversation. Georgiana, however wide-eyed, kept her head down and pretended to be busy with needlework.

"Dear, you must not spend all your time with the baby and nursing yourself very long is out of the question," Mrs. Bennet whispered loudly. "I am sure dear Jane will not do so. Elizabeth, men have needs!"

"Mama!" Elizabeth warned.

Georgiana and Kitty looked at each other gleefully, hoping Mrs. Bennet would continue and were not disappointed.

"Well they do, however unpleasant it may be. They need their wives back as soon as possible. I think Mr. Darcy is not a man to want to wait too long."

"Mother, that is enough. You need not tell me of my duties. The matter has already been settled with my husband. Thank you for your advice."

Her mother looked hurt and turned away from the group of women to pretend to look at a painting. Kitty finally saw her chance.

"Jane, will you not go to the Heathgate ball? It is given by the family there, the Harrises. They are very pleasant people and I am sure would welcome you and Mr. Bingley. Then Georgiana and I could come with you, for Mr. Darcy will not take us."

Jane was somewhat taken aback. "When is the ball?"

"On Friday," Kitty exclaimed. "So there is not much time. You know I would hate to miss a ball."

"Yes, Kitty, I know you would hate it. I would like very much to oblige you. Perhaps I will feel better by Friday."

"What? Feel better?" Mrs. Bennet rejoined the group. "Are you ill, my dear?"

Elizabeth was also concerned and begged her sister to tell her what was wrong.

"I have not been feeling well for some time. Dr. Sutton in London said it is not uncommon and we should not be concerned. Some days are better than others."

"Kitty, you can not ask Jane to go to the ball, if she is not feeling well," Elizabeth admonished. "I think I know exactly what you are feeling, Jane, and knowing you, am not surprised you have not complained of it before."

"If you are ill, I am sorry," Kitty said sadly. "But perhaps Bingley will go!"

"The ball is just not meant to be," Georgiana spoke up. "Nothing has worked out to allow us to go. We can not ask Jane, and Charles will not want to go without her even if he says he will take us. We must just accept it and be glad for the balls we did attend."

Tears sprang to Kitty's eyes as she realized she had no confederates on her side. "Then that is it. I will be here for one more month and then go home with Mama, and you will stay here and have your ball in April, and I shall be in Longbourn going to the Lucases. I am sorry I have been so much trouble. You have treated me very well and I hope I have not been in the way." She gave an affected sniffle. "I am tired tonight. Please excuse me."

She rose and walked as dignified as she could manage out of the room.

Elizabeth turned ruefully to Darcy as he looked to the ceiling, as if searching for an answer there on the mysteries of keeping young ladies happy.

Darcy watched his wife brush her hair as she prepared for bed.

"I suppose if Kitty is ever to smile again, I must take her to the ball," he sighed.

"She truly will get over it and probably in a very short time. If you can not bear the thought of being away from home for four or five hours, I will certainly not ask you to go."

"It is a bother to go. The Harrises are damned insensitive to even ask us now. But Kitty is our guest and I suppose does not have much to do while the lady of the house is confined. Did you know I would go in the end?"

"It entered my mind. You are too generous to cause grief to any young lady for very long. So enjoy yourself if you can."

It was not long before the day of the ball arrived. Darcy was sullen much of the day, so Kitty stayed out of his way as long as she could.

"Lizzy, your yellow ribbons will go very nicely in my hair if Marguerite can braid them. Will she do that for me?"

"Yes, Marguerite can do anything," Lizzy spoke fondly of her maid. "You may have her all the rest of the day, for she is little used these days and I fear will forget her French tricks if she does not practice. Kitty, you must not ask Darcy to take you to any more parties while you are here. He is not too happy to be going to this one."

"Oh, I am not afraid of him. He offered to take us. You know, I am not near as afraid of him as I once was. He looks dark and glowers sometimes and makes you think that he is angry , but he has been very kind to me and he dotes on you, Lizzy. I would not mind marrying a man like Darcy, if he were also very rich and handsome."

"I believe you can count yourself among thousands who want to marry someone rich and handsome. I hope there are enough Darcys to go around. Kitty, I am going to try to nap now but be sure you show yourself to me before you leave tonight."

Elizabeth stayed on the sofa in her bedroom while Darcy brought his two female charges to her for inspection.

"Why you both look like angels, do they not, Mama?"

"Very sweet. Miss Darcy, if you adjust your gown so the bodice settles a little lower, I guarantee you will not want for any dance partners. That is what I tell all my girls and they have always done very well at dances, except for poor Mary who does not have much of anything to show."

Georgiana's brother's mouth stood agape, too astonished to interject.

"Mama," Lizzy quickly said. "Georgiana's sweetness and accomplishments are what will give her dance partners."

"Nonsense, nonsense. I know the first thing a man will notice is..."

"Oh, Mama," Elizabeth interrupted hastily. "I feel a pain!"

Darcy started forward but Elizabeth managed a surreptitious wink to let him know all was well.

"Where my dear? Is it the baby?" Mrs. Bennet asked.

"I do not know. It has passed. Perhaps you should all go now or you will be late and I must rest."

"Yes, yes, go, go, all of you. We must rest here." Mrs. Bennet ushered the girls out of the room but Darcy lingered.

"You are all right?"

"Yes. My back hurts but it is nothing. I'm sorry you heard all that."

Darcy smiled. "I never realized before that my first attraction to you began because your bodice was settled low. Will the guile of women never cease?"

"You may go too, sir. I know you saw nothing of that, just my eyes."

Darcy kissed his wife. "I won't wake you when I return, so I'll kiss you good night now. Sleep well and I will see you tomorrow morning." One more kiss and he was gone.

Much to Darcy's amazement, not only did Georgiana and Kitty have a wonderful time at Heathsgate Manor's ball, not only did they dance almost every dance, not only did they spend a considerable time with the Harris nephews, but the cousin of Mr. Harris, a young widow with three fatherless children, hinted broadly all evening how much she would like to dance. He tried to let her know he had a wife of only one year waiting for him at home and certainly that was no secret, but Mrs. Martin would not be swayed, settling next to him even during supper.

He managed to escape her by going outside with some of the gentlemen to smoke. To his chagrin, he saw it had begun to snow.

"It looks like we may be putting up guests tonight if the snow continues," Mr. Harris said.

"Not the Darcys," he muttered to himself and entered the house to gather Georgiana and Kitty for he would not be delayed in returning home.

The girls sighed and moaned when he found them and told them they were to leave. Even Georgiana protested. He noted she had taken his mother-in-law's advice and was tempted to order her to pull up her bodice but thought that was too familiar.

The two young ladies dragged their heels as he led them to their carriage. Then he had to bear the excited chatter on their dance partners and their rivals for the Harris nephews' affections. Never did female voices so vex him.

Time moved quicker and quicker as the carriage moved slower and slower through the deepening snow. The horses were soon moving at a slow trot and the girls continued to giggle and chatter, not noticing two full hours had passed since they set out. Finally, Pemberley came into view.

It was near 1:30 when Darcy and his charges walked through the door. He expected the candles to be lit in the hall but was surprised to see fresh ones burning in the east drawing room. The master of the house did not complain of small expenses but thought it extravagant to have candles burning in the downstairs rooms, when the hall would be just fine until he had returned. He began to tell Bates, his butler, just that as he approached.

"There are no need for all these candles, Bates."

"Sir, please forgive me, but Dr. Eustace is upstairs with Mrs. Darcy."

"The doctor is here?" Darcy already had one foot on the stairs and turned to run up to his wife's room but checked himself. "Has she, is it the child?"

"Yes, sir. I am sorry but Mrs. Darcy did not want us to send for you, and then everything went so quickly. Dr. Eustace came just one hour ago and Mrs. Greene is here also. I'm sorry I don't have any news."

Georgiana and Kitty stood wide-eyed on the stairs above Darcy. He seemed torn between running to Lizzy's room to find out what was happening and trying to be calm until word came to him.

"Is Mrs. Bennet with Mrs. Darcy?" Darcy asked.

"Yes sir."

"Is there anyone who can tell me anything? Where is Marguerite?"

"Also with Mrs. Darcy, sir."

"Good grief, is there anyone who is not with her? Where is Mrs. Reynolds?"

"Mr. Darcy, I will go to Lizzy's room," Kitty offered.

"No, you can not go in there." Darcy realized they were still on the stairs. "You girls should go to bed. There's nothing you can do. Get Mrs. Reynolds, Bates."

The butler bowed and began to climb the stairs.

"Is she with my wife too?" Darcy called.

"No, sir. I believe she is waiting in the hall if needed."

Darcy turned and went into the drawing room. Kitty and Georgiana looked at each other and silently agreed to wait on the stairs. As long as they did not speak, Darcy might forget they were still there. This was more exciting than the ball.

As he stood before the dying embers in the fireplace, Darcy listened for Mrs. Reynolds' footsteps. With each passing second, a sensation grew in him, one he had never know. Joy and fear mixed together and seemed to squeeze his very heart. Finally, finally, the baby was coming. But was Lizzy all right?

"Mr. Darcy." Startled, Darcy turned to Mrs. Reynolds.

"Mrs. Reynolds, can you tell me what is happening?"

"It is moving very quickly, sir, and that can not be a bad thing. Mrs. Darcy must have been feeling it all day but did not recognize it or did not want to worry you. Marguerite called me at 10:30 to say she thought it had begun, and we sent for Mrs. Greene and Dr. Eustace, but Mrs. Darcy did not want us to send for you. She thought you would be home soon enough."

"Is there any danger?"

"Oh no, sir," Mrs. Reynolds sought to allay his fears. "She is a good, strong lady and, God willing, should come through very well."

"Please tell her I am here. And tell Dr. Eustace I want to know immediately if there is any change."

Mrs. Reynolds curtsied and left her master staring into the fireplace. She came across the young ladies who were waiting on the first landing.

"Miss Darcy, Miss Bennet, can I see you to bed?"

"We can not sleep," Georgiana whispered. "Will the baby be here soon?"

"Aye. I believe within the hour. Why don't you get to your rooms at least where you will be comfortable. I promise I will tell you as soon as there is news."

"Let's go to your room," Kitty said and they ran off giggling together.

Mrs. Reynolds continued to Mrs. Darcy's room and knocked on the door. After a moment, Marguerite opened it a crack. The housekeeper whispered to Mrs. Bennet's maid. She nodded, closed the door, went to her mistress, and whispered in her ear.

"What?" an agitated Lizzy gasped. "Where is he? I want him to see what he has done! All men should have to see their wives go through this or better yet... OH! That was hard!"

"Lizzie, you are hysterical. What are you speaking of?" Mrs. Bennet fretted.

"Mr. Darcy has arrived, ma'am," Marguerite said.

"Hmm, well it is about time. Running off to a party while his wife is having a baby. At least my Mr. Bennet was home for each of my daughters' births although by the time Kitty was born, he didn't bother coming upstairs."

"Mama, if I didn't feel like crying, I'd burst out laughing," Lizzy breathed. "Oh, dear God, is this soon over?"

Dr. Eustace crept down the stairs cautiously. He didn't know if Mr. Darcy would welcome him or be angry at him. He stopped at the door to the drawing room and cleared his throat.

Darcy turned, startled. Apprehension passed over his features. "Yes, Dr. Eustace?"

"Your wife has borne a daughter, sir." Better to get the bad news out first. The mother-in-law had told him how much Mr. Darcy wanted a son. "Both she and the child are very well. Mrs. Darcy wants very much to see you and as soon as the ladies are finished upstairs, they will call for you."

Darcy closed his eyes. "A daughter. Thank God." When he opened his eyes he spoke gruffly. "She is well and my wife is well?"

"Yes, I believe everything is following its normal course. Mrs. Darcy is a strong, healthy woman and, considering it was her first child, things went well."

"Thank you. I thank you." He sighed and then collected himself. "Can I get you a brandy? I think I shall have one myself."

"Yes, sir, a brandy would be very welcome."

As Darcy poured, a rustling of silk was heard coming down the stairs. Mrs. Bennet rushed in.

"Oh, there you are."

Again Darcy looked apprehensive. "Is all well?"

"Yes, yes, all is well. It was very, very difficult for my Lizzy. Giving birth is not an easy thing, you know. You men can stand down here and drink your wine but we women must work very hard. I have never been so tired in all my life. You know, Mr. Darcy, Lizzy tried not to complain. She was very brave but I could see she could barely stand the pain. And then when we saw it was a girl, oh my heart near broke. But she is a very pretty little thing, not at all ugly as some babies are. Some boys are born very ugly. I hope you will not mind that your first child is a daughter for I'm sure you will have a son next time."

"Thank you, Mrs. Bennet. I believe if I stand down here much longer I will become senseless. May I see my wife now?"

"Yes, that is what I came to tell you. She is ready to see you. But do not stay very long for she is tired and I myself would like to get to bed. It is after three o'clock in the morning!"

Darcy barely stayed long enough to hear Mrs. Bennet's last words. He hurried to his butler who was waiting just outside the door leading to the kitchens.

"Bates, gather all the servants. Tell Mrs. Reynolds to help you. I want wine readied for all of them in the great hall. When I come downstairs, I want everyone to drink a toast to Mrs. Darcy and our daughter."

"Yes, sir. And my very hearty congratulations."

Darcy smiled for the first time. "Thank you. Fifteen minutes, Bates."

He took the stairs two at a time and rushed down the hallway to his wife's bed chamber. A door clicked shut behind him and he thought he heard girlish voices but could not worry about that now. He paused outside his wife's door and tentatively knocked. Marguerite promptly opened it.

Darcy shyly poked his head around the door. The women in the room looked askance at him. Marguerite was giggling, Mrs. Greene, the midwife looked impatient, Mrs. Duncan, the newly hired nurse looked annoyed. But his eyes could only take in the two most important females in his life now--his wife and daughter.

"Mrs. Duncan, give her to me," Lizzy commanded. The nurse lifted what looked like a bundle of white linen and carried it to his wife. As Elizabeth accepted the bundle, a little arm shot up from the white cloth.

Darcy stood mutely at the foot of his wife's bed.

"Well?" Elizabeth arched her brow at her husband.

He inched closer and bravely sat on the edge of the bed and peered into the little bundle cradled in his wife's arms. A little round red face appeared, eyes shut but tiny rosebud mouth moving silently. Arms and legs twitched under the swaddling cloth but the hand that had escaped looked flawless.

"Lizzy, you are amazing. You are perfect. You have done this perfect thing," Darcy said in awe.

"Look at her hand, how tiny. See her yellow hair, so fine, like Georgiana's though Mama says it may change."

"If she opens her eyes, I'm sure I will see the eyes of her mother." Darcy reached down to kiss his wife's forehead.

"I saw her eyes and they are yours. I knew it right away for they burned right through me to my heart," Lizzy whispered.

"Then her smile will be yours. I vow to do everything I can to never let anything but a smile be on her lips."

"Then you have struggle ahead of you, William. I think babies cry as much as they smile."

"You must be very tired. I wish I could have helped you."

"I wish you could have too. I suppose you were bored at the ball."

"Ball, I forget I ever went to one. The girls can't wait to see you but they must wait until tomorrow. You must rest." Darcy reached out to touch his daughter's downy cheek. "This is extraordinary. Do you still agree to call her Anne?"

"Yes, she is Anne." Lizzy kissed the top of her sleeping baby's head.

"Thank you, Lizzy. You could not make me any happier."

"Thank you Fitzwilliam. I could never be happy without you."

After toasting his wife and daughter and accepting congratulations from the bolder servants, Darcy sent them all back to bed including Bates and Mrs. Reynolds. His house was quiet now. The clock had just finished chiming four o'clock. It was just a few hours ago that he was the responsible brother, watching over his sisters at Heathgate Manor. Now he was responsible for his baby daughter. His life had changed forever.

He picked up a candle and walked through the hallways. He did this sometimes at night, thinking about the day's events as he walked. He checked all the candles and fireplaces to make sure they were out in the unused rooms. No need to worry about fire. He checked the windows and drapes, and tried to secure them against drafts. A fierce protective urge rose up in him that he knew would never leave him. He wanted a fortress for his wife and daughter to keep them forever safe and sheltered.

Outside Elizabeth's room, he paused and then went in. His wife was sleeping, so he moved quietly to his daughter's side. She was kicking and twisting, quite wide awake. He put his fingers to his lips and then placed them on her soft cheek. She settled and blinked at him. He smiled and turned to his wife. She was all tangled within the sheets but looked peaceful. He kissed her cheek and walked soundlessly out of the room and down the halls again.

The End

© 1997 Copyright held by the author.