A Long Night
Set in July, the Darcy's are expected their fifth child. But things aren't going well this time, and, well...here it is.
The time passed very slowly for Elizabeth. Summer in town held no appeal for her. She longed for the cool shades and quiet of Pemberley, but the doctor had forbidden her to travel some three months ago when complications in this pregnancy became apparent. He wanted no chances taken, and Darcy, upon hearing him out, had agreed completely.
Elizabeth watched sadly as first Georgiana left to stay with Lady Catherine at Rosings Park, and then Jane and Charles with their two children returned to Yorkshire. Jane felt terrible about leaving her sister thus confined, but promised to return before Lizzie's time, as soon as their affairs in the north were settled. As a matter of fact, Elizabeth had received a letter from Jane only days earlier to tell her that she was on her way, only stopping in Hertfordshire to visit their mother before coming to London. Elizabeth reflected that by now her sister may have had her fill of Meryton and could arrive in town at any time. Her mind brightened at this. The last three weeks had found her terribly ill and she had not been able to leave her chambers. As a result, she had been in a terrible temper, which even her loving husband could do little to dispel.
That husband was pleased to see his wife in a better humor when he looked in on her later that afternoon.
"I, too, shall be happy to see your sister arrive, if she can bring your smile back! Charles will be joining her in Meryton to bring her south."
This was news to Elizabeth, but not unwelcome. Her husband confided in his friend almost as much as Elizabeth confided in her sister. It was comforting to know that he would also have the support of a friend should her labor prove as difficult as she was beginning to fear.
"I was invited to dine with the Hastings this evening, but I think I'll decline" Darcy said.
"No, you should go. I'll be fine for a few hours, I'm sure. And just because I'm confined does not mean you need to do voluntary penance as well!" Elizabeth shook her head. "No, you need to get out. Besides, I am in a better humor today, looking forward to seeing Jane, and it is better to take advantage of leaving me alone in this mood than if I were miserable."
Darcy laughed. "In that you are right, surely! Very well, I shall go, but I will not be staying late, and will join you here when I return."
They talked a while longer until Elizabeth grew tired, and Darcy left to change before his departure for the Hastings.
Elizabeth was asleep when he came to take his leave.
* * * *
Sir Anthony Hastings and his wife were more than pleased to entertain Mr. Darcy during his wife's indisposition. The proud parents of seven children, they were well acquainted with the feelings of a young father being at loose ends at the end of his wife's term.
"How is dear Mrs. Darcy today?" Mrs. Hastings inquired of their guest.
"Her spirits are lifted today. Her sister, Mrs. Bingley, will be joining us soon." Darcy replied. He liked Mrs. Hastings. She had been uncommonly kind to Elizabeth over this past winter when his wife had been feeling very ill.
"That will be a relief to you, I'm sure."
Darcy nodded in agreement.
Not surprisingly, the Hastings found that their guest's thoughts were not with them for much of the evening. They were not offended by this in the least. In fact they would have been quite surprised had it been otherwise. So when Mr. Darcy rose to leave shortly after nine o'clock, his hosts merely smiled at one another and sent their best wishes for Mrs. Darcy as they saw him out.
The air was oppressive. Darcy was grateful for the fact that the Hastings lived only a few hundred yards from his own home. The walk, though, was anything but pleasant. His mind lost in gloomy thoughts, he did not see the figure running down the walk toward him until almost too late. It was Richard, his footman, who, breathing heavily, said that he had been sent to fetch his master home immediately. Without waiting to hear any more Darcy sprang into a run and was within the house in seconds. He raced upstairs and nearly collided with Agnes, his wife's maid, in the hallway.
"Oh, sir," she cried "thank goodness you've come! She has been asking for you this last quarter hour. The doctor has been sent for."
They entered Mrs. Darcy's room and he crossed to the bed to take up her hand. She seemed incredibly hot to the touch and her face was beaded with perspiration. Feeling his touch, Elizabeth turned her face toward him and opened her eyes.
"Oh, Fitzwilliam, please don't leave. Don't leave me." she mumbled.
Alarmed, he looked to Agnes. "Has she been like this long?"
"The fever has come on quickly. This time it is going to be difficult. I pray she is up to it."
This speech did nothing to allay his fears, and he sat down on the bed next to Elizabeth and spoke softly to her.
"I'm here, dear Elizabeth. Please, speak to me."
She looked at him once again and he could see the fear in her eyes. He steeled himself to appear calmer, that she would not worry for him as well.
"I'm so afraid." Her voice sounded very weak and he leaned closer. "I have this terrible sense of foreboding. Promise me," she clutched his sleeve and her eyes were pleading, "promise me you will always be as loving a father as you have been, whatever happens to me!"
He was horrified! Elizabeth had never sounded so morbid. "Yes, yes I promise. But my dearest Elizabeth, nothing shall happen to you!" He heard the door open behind him and knew that the doctor had arrived. "Dr. McCarthy is here. I shall send an express to Bingley asking him to bring Jane immediately. I shall not be long."
Elizabeth nodded wearily and Darcy released her hand as the doctor took his place by her side.
Rushing down the hall to his own rooms, the master summoned a waiting servant to him and gave him instructions for sending his missive as he hurriedly scrawled it onto paper.
Bring Jane at once. Lizzie is very bad.
Doesn't look hopeful. Pray God you are
Later he wouldn't remember having written anything so dramatic. Now he could scarcely comprehend the effect these few words would have on the people at Longbourn.
The express rider made excellent time, but it was still close to midnight when he delivered his letter to the front door of the Bennet home. Charles Bingley quickly read the few lines and rushed upstairs to inform his wife. The news spread quickly throughout the house as Jane and her husband made all of the necessary preparations to depart. Within an hour the carriage was at the door, awaiting only Mr. and Mrs. Bingley before setting off. They left Longbourn in a state of upheaval-Mrs. Bennet moaning and crying upstairs, Mr. Bennet morose and withdrawn, but assured that his daughter, Jane, would write as soon as there was news.
Jane fretted about Lizzie the entire twenty-five miles of the trip. Her husband, though equally concerned for the health of his sister-in-law, was just as worried for the state of mind of his friend. The brief lines of his note said more for Darcy's condition than if he had seen him in person.
At last the horses arrived at the front door, and Jane stumbled out of the carriage. Light spilled from the windows though it was after four in the morning. The day was dawning as grey and miserable as their anxieties.
The lone figure of John, Mr. Darcy's manservant, met them in the front hall. He quickly took Mrs. Bingley's wrap and entreated her to go upstairs immediately. Jane needed no urging and flew up the staircase to her sister's room. She reached the top landing and her heart leapt into her throat at the sight of Mr. Darcy in a chair outside Elizabeth's door, doubled over, his head cradled in his hands. For an awful moment she feared she was too late, her sister gone and Darcy in despair. A harsh whisper escaped her lips.
"Oh, God. Elizabeth!"
Darcy raised his head at the sound. His eyes were haunted but relief washed over her as she could see it was just fatigue and worry, certainly not grief.
His eyes closed briefly as he gave a long sigh. "Thank God you're here, Jane."
The door opened and Elizabeth's maid, upon spying Jane in the corridor, beckoned her inside. Quickly Jane entered the room and the door closed behind her. Her gaze took in the scene in an instant. Elizabeth was very still, one of her maids applying a damp cloth to her forehead. It was obvious that she had not delivered yet, and even more obvious that she was beyond exhaustion. The doctor noticed the new arrival and came forward.
"Mrs. Bingley, I assume?" Jane nodded . The doctor glanced back at his patient. "She has asked for you several times. She is very weak. It's a breech presentation. If the baby doesn't turn itself soon, I'll have to turn it myself. I'd appreciate two things from you, if you are able."
"First, that you agree to stay with her. It won't be pleasant. It's not without risk." At Jane's acceptance of this charge he continued. "Second, make him," and he nodded toward the closed door, "go downstairs and stay there. He's been here all night, and I don't need a second patient to distract me from the first. This is going to be difficult enough to accomplish without his emotions getting in the way."
"I will have my husband keep him company." and with that Jane left the room to tackle what she hoped would be the easiest of the two tasks.
Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley were standing together a little way down the hall. Jane had never seen her brother-in-law look so much at a loss.
"Mr. Darcy." she called softly as she approached them.
He looked at her hopefully, as if by some miracle, her presence would now set everything right.
"This is going to take some time, and it is not going to be easy." She felt her heart sink along with his expression. "The doctor and Lizzie have asked me to stay with her." Darcy started to speak but Jane cut him off. "You will stay downstairs with Charles. You have been through enough, and difficult as waiting down there is likely to be, waiting up here would be harder on all of us. Quite frankly you would be in the way, and that could put Lizzie in danger. I won't have it." Her tone softened to add "And I know you wouldn't want that either. Please, go downstairs with Charles."
After a lengthy pause he said "You are absolutely right," and abruptly turned away to proceed down the staircase. Charles Bingley gave his wife an encouraging squeeze of her hand and followed his friend.
Taking a deep breath to prepare herself, Jane Bingley turned to the next, most difficult task of her life.
to be continued......if you like
A little drama, a little humor......
It had been three, no, four hours- Darcy corrected himself- since the Bingleys' arrival. His sister-in- law had been mistaken. It was not difficult to sit here in his study awaiting news from upstairs. It was sheer agony. His thoughts kept circling back to the same point in time-Elizabeth extracting a promise from him because she had feared that she would die. Any moment he expected confirmation of that fear. He felt guilty. He had, of course discussed with the doctor, and instructed him, that, in the event a choice had to be made, he wanted to be sure that he still had a wife at the end of this ordeal. He knew Elizabeth would not agree with him here, but, as he had told her on the occasion of his second marriage proposal (was it really only six years ago?) "I have been a selfish being all of my life", and if this was selfish so be it!
"Another one?" Bingley offered up the bottle of whiskey and Darcy realized that his glass was empty- again. In the hours that the two of them had been trapped in this room, Fitzwilliam Darcy had bared his soul in a way he had never done before, nor ever hoped to have reason to do again. The second bottle of whiskey was nearly gone, and he knew that Charles Bingley had consumed very little, yet he certainly did not feel intoxicated.
"By all means," he said without inflection. Bingley was the most impartial listener the world had seen. A good thing, reflected Darcy, since I've done more talking this evening than in the whole of our acquaintance. He was startled, therefore, when his friend suddenly chose to speak.
"You will not be of much use to Elizabeth with such a dreadful head as you are going to be experiencing tomorrow. You may not be feeling the effects of all this drink now, but that will not dampen the aftereffects."
"I know." Darcy said dejectedly. And I don't particularly care, he added to himself. I want to feel this pain. My wife is suffering unbearably and I should be, too. He had declined the breakfast brought by the servant, though Bingley made sure the food was left, intending to see him eat something anyway.
The clock chimed nine times, only serving to emphasize Darcy's weariness. A footstep sounded outside the door and it swung open. In stepped Jane Bingley looking completely exhausted. Darcy was half afraid to meet her eyes, but he then noticed the small bundle of blankets in her arms. He moved toward her, eyes fixed on her burden, and she handed him the baby as she said:
"Lizzie says her name is to be Anna."
He looked at the tiny face and wondered at such a small thing being the cause of so much heartache, not realizing that he'd spoken aloud. Suddenly recalling Jane's reference to Elizabeth, he looked up hopefully.
Jane gave him a small smile. "Lizzie is sleeping and will be for quite some time. The doctor had to turn the baby himself. It was not easy for her." Jane closed her eyes, remembering the scene that had been before her so recently. "He'll be down to talk to you soon."
Suddenly Darcy felt too tired to stand. He lowered himself into a chair and stared into the face of his newest daughter. He searched her tiny features for her mother's likeness, but everything seemed to mirror his own rather than Elizabeth's. The dark wispy hair curled on the baby's head, and even the little frown on her face belonged distinctly to her father. How long he sat there he didn't know, but at a touch on his shoulder looked up at Jane.
"The doctor wishes to speak to you, now." She indicated the man waiting just inside the door. "And the nurse will take Anna upstairs."
Then the door was closed and he was alone with Dr. McCarthy. He tried to stand and was made aware of just how much whiskey he had consumed with no sleep at all. Instead, he motioned the doctor to a seat.
"You need to go to bed, man." McCarthy noted.
"Is that what you came to tell me?" Darcy said sarcastically, then shook his head and added "I apologize, that was very ill-mannered."
McCarthy was too tired himself to take any offense. "Mrs. Darcy should sleep the rest of the day. I'll return this evening to check on her, and then again tomorrow morning. If all goes well, and she is young and strong, despite her difficulties these last few months, her recovery should not take more than two months."
Darcy breathed a sigh of relief.
"There is one thing, though," the doctor continued, and Darcy struggled to focus on the man's words. "I will speak to your wife later on this subject, but for now I strongly urge you to reconsider any plans you may have had for additional children. This delivery was one of the most difficult I've attended, and the physical damage Mrs. Darcy has had to endure, I fear, will prevent her from carrying any more children to full term. The danger to herself in such a situation would be serious."
Darcy waved him off with "I foresee no difficulty with this child being our last. I should think five sufficient for any family." But here his tone became more serious. "I cannot thank you enough, McCarthy, for your attentions to my wife through these last months. But for your services I doubt--" but here his voice faltered and words failed him. Both men became aware of the hold that the alcohol had taken on him now that the stress of events had let up.
"I will take my leave now." McCarthy said as he rose. "No, don't get up-I don't think you can, anyway!" he laughed. "Get yourself to bed, and I'll see you this evening."
On his way out the doctor said to John, who saw him to the door, "I suggest you get your master upstairs before he falls over. Try to get him to drink some water and eat something before he faints away."
John nodded and the door closed. He called Richard to come with him to the master's study. There they found Darcy staring out of the window.
"Would you care for some assistance upstairs, sir?" John boldly inquired.
His master turned toward them and John reflected that he'd never seen the man so drunk.
"Yes, I think that will do nicely." He smiled broadly and stumbled his way to the door.
With Richard on one side and John on the other, they progressed halfway to the first landing when the Bingleys called to him from the lower hall. The two servants barely caught Darcy from falling as he turned to address his friend below.
"Oh, there you are, Bingley!" he slurred as Jane and Charles struggled to keep from laughing aloud. "My heart has been lightened immensely!" he announced with a flourish which nearly sent him tumbling.
"His head, too, I should imagine." Bingley said aside to his wife. She turned away to hide her amusement. "Are you retiring to your room then?" he called.
Darcy seemed to study the question a moment before answering. "Yes." he said simply, and turned around to continue on his way.
Mr. Bingley watched him go and then turned to his wife. "I'm amazed he's still conscious! And you as well, my dear. You shall go upstairs at once and get some rest. I shall send the letter to your father."
Jane looked gratefully at her husband. "But you should get some sleep, too. You've been up all night as well."
"What! Listening to Darcy prattle on?" he huffed. "I wouldn't call filling his glass every fifteen minutes particularly tiring."
"How much did you two drink?" she asked.
"Me? I hardly had three glasses all night, I'm sure." He nodded in the direction Darcy had gone. "He, however, must have taken in a full bottle and a half! He'll probably sleep until tomorrow morning!"
Jane was shocked. "I don't envy his servants with the head he'll have."
An amused Charles Bingley ushered his wife upstairs and turned to Darcy's study to compose a letter to Mr. Bennet.
Contrary to Mr. Bingley's opinion, Mr. Darcy slept only until four o'clock that afternoon. Despite his condition, he'd demanded that John waken him in time to make himself presentable for dinner.
By five-thirty he had examined his appearance in the mirror, pronounced himself acceptable, and rued the fact that he wasn't quite sober yet. Before going downstairs he planned to look in on Elizabeth. He met Charles Bingley in the corridor as his friend came to accompany his own wife down to the dining room.
"I say, Darcy, you look terrible!"
"Thank you very much, Bingley. I had thought that I looked tolerably well, considering."
Mr. Bingley had the good grace to look sheepish. "Jane has just gone in to check on Elizabeth, and then we were going down to dinner. You are joining us, then?"
"Yes, I just wanted to look in on Elizabeth myself."
Bingley peered closely into Darcy's face and Darcy waved him away. "That whiskey hasn't worn off yet, then?" he asked.
Darcy drew himself up straighter. "No, but I am in no danger of falling down the stairs at least." he said indignantly. With a look intended to silence his friend, he turned away and quietly opened the door to his wife's room and went inside.
Jane sat beside Elizabeth on the great bed, talking softly. Elizabeth's eyes flicked toward her husband, and a faint smile touched her mouth. Darcy's heart ached to see her so weak.
"I'll go now," Jane was saying. "I don't want to tire you so much that you fall asleep talking to your husband!" She gave Darcy a meaningful glance and indicated to the maid to leave the couple in private.
Darcy sat down gently on the bed next to his wife. Taking her hand, his eyes searched her face as he inquired how she was feeling.
"Very, very tired. And how have you withstood this?"
"I'm quite light-headed at the moment," he confessed. "I foolishly tried to escape my conscience in a bottle.......or two."
"So Jane was telling me!" Elizabeth looked into his eyes for a moment. "What do you think of your daughter?" She indicated the cradle which stood a few feet away beside the bed.
Mr. Darcy looked in and was surprised to see a pair of dark eyes looking back at him. He smiled and lifted the tiny baby out of the cot to carry her over to Elizabeth. But instead of handing Anna over to her mother, Darcy sat down on the bed and held the baby in his arms, himself. It never ceased to amaze him how a newborn could gaze so steadfastly into another face.
"She looks like you." Elizabeth whispered.
Darcy stole a glance at his wife. "Yes, the poor child. With all the mischief she has caused already, quite frankly I'm not surprised to see the Darcy frown on her face. I hope that does not bode ill for her temper. Two of us in one house, it hardly bears contemplating!"
Elizabeth was not too fatigued to resist playing this game. "Then it is fortunate that the rest of your children have my disposition to counteract the evils in their sister's and father's."
As if taking exception to this criticism, Anna suddenly screwed up her face and began to wail. Elizabeth reached for her and Darcy relinquished his hold. The baby snuggled up to her mother and quieted.
Darcy opened his mouth to speak but thought better of it, realizing that perhaps it would be better to wait for a clearer mind than risk getting himself into trouble. Instead he excused himself and promised to return when the doctor arrived later in the evening. Elizabeth merely shook her head in amusement after he departed.
Darcy joined Mr. and Mrs. Bingley in the dining room.
"I hope I didn't keep you waiting."
Jane was the first to reply, glancing at her husband, grinning insipidly at Darcy's expense. "You don't really suppose we would mind you taking time to visit with Elizabeth and Anna?"
Darcy smiled and held out her chair. "Mind or not, here I am and dinner may commence. Your seat, madam?"
Jane sat down and the gentlemen took their seats. It was a pleasant, quiet meal, a stark contrast to the situation in this house a mere twelve hours ago.
"I understand you dispatched a letter to Longbourn?" Darcy inquired of his friend.
"Yes." Bingley said. "Jane had promised her father to send news as soon as possible. I sent it express- to save Mrs. Bennet the extra worry."
The three diners exchanged glances and smiled.
"That was very kind of you, Bingley. I regret my failure in that duty. Thank-you for attending to it. Of course, that reminds me that I must write to Georgiana, though I shall spare her the particulars and confine my narrative to the end result." Darcy signaled the server to clear his place, and excused himself to write his letter, promising to meet them in the garden when he was done.
The letter to Georgiana he kept short, and composed a note to the Hastings, expressing his gratitude once again to Mrs. Hastings for all of her kindness to Elizabeth over the past several months, and inviting them to visit when Elizabeth was better recovered.
Having sent one letter to the post and a servant to deliver the other, Darcy now removed to join Mr. and Mrs. Bingley in the cool shades of the garden. The sounds of children's laughter led him to the lawn on the far side of the hedgerows which divided the ornamental trees from the open expanse of grass. As he stepped through the arched opening in the hedge, William gave a shrill "Papa!" and ran gaily up to him. Catching the boy in his arms, Darcy swung him into the air and carried him over to where the Bingleys were entertaining the two-and-a-half year-old twins, little Jane and Charles.
William was close to four years old now, and the image of his father with one exception; the sparkle in his eye bespoke a humor more particular to his mother. An active little boy, he now struggled out of his father's arms and scampered over to his younger brother and sister. The three children laughed and giggled as they kicked a ball about the lawn. Their nurse hovered in the background, a discreet distance away.
"Oh, just watching these three tires one out, I declare!" sighed Jane Bingley as she moved to seat herself on a nearby bench.
Darcy smiled. "It must make you miss your own children. Are they at Longbourn?"
"Yes." Jane said wistfully. "But the break from their antics is welcome just the same," she added. Mr. and Mrs. Bingley exchanged a look.
"I know whereof you speak." Darcy laughed. "The halls of Pemberley will never be the same! The walls fairly resound with myriad children's noises. I shudder to think of what it will be like when all five are in full cry! I must come to visit you when I need peace and quiet."
Charles Bingley laughed at his friend. "It won't be that much quieter in our home, as our own children are just as capable of mimicking the sounds of an army."
"Ah, but an army of two is indeed a refreshing bit of solitude compared to my own forces. And, besides, the complacent tempers of your children are a vivid contrast to the wild headstrong tempers of mine!"
Jane also laughed at her brother-in-law. "At least they come by it honestly!" she teased. "And who says that our army will remain at but two troops?"
Darcy quickly turned to her, and his inquiring glance darted between her and his friend. Charles smiled and nodded.
"Congratulations!" Darcy cried. "When is the arrival due? Does Elizabeth know?"
Jane shook her head. "January, but I've said nothing to Elizabeth yet. I'll give her a couple of days of rest first or she'll be sympathizing with me rather than congratulating me!"
"Three makes a significant difference from two" Darcy reflected. "I suppose I must go to Longbourn, then, when I need my peace and quiet." He stole a sly look at Jane.
Before she could reply, the three young Darcys approached, clamoring for their father's participation. He moved off with them with a feigned look of apology toward Mrs. Bingley, knowing full well that his children had saved him from her mild reproof.
* * *
They were less than an hour in the garden when the nurse announced it time to usher the children upstairs to bathe and bed. At the same time the footman found them to announce Dr. McCarthy's arrival. The good doctor had already taken himself up to check on his patient, and Darcy excused himself from the Bingleys' company to join him. He found the doctor and his wife in her chambers; the former looking frustrated and the latter, defiant.
McCarthy looked at Darcy hopefully. "I have just been outlining to your wife the facts of our earlier conversation regarding her health. Particularly as it pertains to having any more children."
Darcy now understood the position of each. Addressing Elizabeth, he said, "The doctor has discussed with me his fears and recommendation. We may discuss this privately unless you wish otherwise?" He had left the option open to her, now her choice would determine how far this conversation would go. The doctor was aware of Darcy's opinion. Nothing could induce him to jeopardize his wife's health; he had nearly lost her this time! He could be just as obstinate as Elizabeth.
"I do not wish otherwise, privately will do." she flatly said.
"Do you have any further questions," McCarthy interjected, "as pertains to this particular matter?" Elizabeth shook her head, and he continued. "I am very pleased that you rested through the day. I recommend that you try to get as much bed rest as possible over the next week. Don't be in a rush to get yourself up and about. The healing process will take much less time if you take proper care now. I believe there won't be any need for me to return tomorrow. I will, however, check in on you before the end of the week. If you have any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to send for me."
"Thank you, McCarthy." Darcy said, and Elizabeth added "Yes, thank you for all you've done, for myself and Anna. Without your extra effort I'm sure we would not have had such a healthy little girl."
McCarthy smiled and took his leave. As the door closed behind him Elizabeth turned her eyes toward her husband. Darcy, for his part, took a moment to prepare himself before turning to face her. Finally, his eyes met hers; a clash of iron wills.
"You believed what he had to say, accepted it without question?" Elizabeth bluntly asked.
"Why should I not?" Darcy retorted, then sighed, exasperated. "Elizabeth, admit the truth to yourself, at least. You experienced difficulties throughout virtually this entire pregnancy. The delivery was horrific, and although my role was merely to await the outcome, I certainly do not wish to ever repeat what we have been through!" He moved to kneel beside the bed, bringing his face level to hers. "Elizabeth, we have five healthy children! I will not risk losing you. That is my final word."
Elizabeth stared into his eyes for a long time. "My head understands the reasoning behind this inevitable decision," she said as last, "but please do not expect my heart to embrace the idea."
"You cannot think my heart so unaffected?" he asked incredulously. "Elizabeth, I was afraid you would die. You feared the same! I spent those long hours envisioning my life without you, and not liking what I saw. I cannot, will not, subject either of us to that again!"
She could not doubt the sincerity of his words, nor the validity of the argument. With five very young children to consider, there was no question of risking her health, her life, through some selfish misplaced sense of pride. Yet she could not dispel the disappointment she felt at McCarthy's pronouncement. Elizabeth was but seven and twenty years of age! She should have years of childbearing ahead of her! To have the decision of whether or not to have more children unilaterally taken from her control was a grievous insult to her pride.
"Elizabeth, what are you thinking?"
She looked at Darcy with a wan smile. "I was just contemplating how pride, mine or yours, has been at the root of many of our troubles over the years. It is mine that I must deal with now. Please, just allow me some time to reconcile my pride with what I know must be."
Darcy nodded and there was silence between them. It lasted a few moments before he said "Your sister and her husband spent the last two hours out in the garden with William and the twins. I joined them once I had completed my letter to Georgiana informing her of Anna's arrival. For some reason, Jane seems to find that our children tire her out simply by observing them!"
Elizabeth gave a small laugh. "It's true! If you spend two hours in the company of Jane's children, you come away ready and able to deal with ours. But two hours with our children, and Jane's two little angels are all one is fit to look after! Can you believe the differences between cousins?"
"Yes! Both Jane and Charles are so mild-tempered that they could not but have offspring of the same ilk." Darcy paused. "Having thus justified their inherited qualities I dare not pronounce judgment on our own!"
"Whatever evils our little ones may possess," Elizabeth smiled, "one need look no farther than either parent for the source. Obstinate, headstrong-"
"Quick-witted. Lively." Darcy added.
"Clever. Handsome." Elizabeth began to warm to the subject.
"Bold and fearless," Elizabeth concluded, looking upon her husband with a fond eye. "William particularly. He lends all of his energy into trying to mimic his father. I declare, if we allowed it, he would be on his own horse following you to town every time you left on business!"
Darcy laughed at the image this remark conjured. "Then I suppose that some objection may be raised on your part should I acquire a pony and arrange for riding instruction for our son when we return to Pemberley."
Elizabeth was thoughtful for a few moments. "Actually, that may be a very good suggestion." Darcy's eyebrows rose in surprise. "Giving William a taste of following instruction may offer good preparation, for next year he will be five, and we must seriously look into retaining a governess or tutor to begin some formal education."
Darcy was once again surprised, but this time at his wife's thinking so far ahead. For some time they discussed each of their expectations in the education of their children. Finally Elizabeth could no longer stifle her yawns, and Darcy, recollecting that his wife needed to get a great deal of rest to necessitate a quicker recovery, said good night and left. He went up to the children's rooms to see them tucked in and bid them good night as well. Little Elizabeth, barely over a year old, was fast asleep in her cot. Charles was also already sleeping, while his twin sister was fighting to stay awake until her father appeared. He kissed her and tucked the blanket around her form, and as she settled into her pillow he knew that she would be asleep in seconds. William was wide awake.
"Papa, where is Mama?" he asked immediately.
"Mama is asleep already. She was very tired." Darcy said, smoothing the boy's dark hair back from his brow. "Did you see your new sister?" William nodded eagerly. "You will see Mama tomorrow. You may even take her breakfast to her in the morning if you are a good boy and go quietly to sleep tonight."
William's eyes lit up at the suggestion and he quickly gave his father a hug and kiss, said good night and snuggled down into his blanket. Darcy smiled as he rose and left the room.
He found Mr. and Mrs. Bingley still in the garden enjoying the warm evening air. As he joined them, Jane inquired about her sister.
"She is sleeping. The doctor was pleased with her appearance this evening and feels it unnecessary to return until the end of the week." Darcy expelled a long sigh as he took a seat on one of the benches and looked up into the cloudless sky. "Would either of you care for something to drink? Some lemonade perhaps?"
"That sounds delightful!" Jane replied. "But stay, I'll go in and arrange it. I shan't be long." So saying, she swiftly departed.
Darcy glanced over at his friend. Tentatively he asked "Bingley, how much do you remember of what I said to you in my study?"
Bingley's eyes were thoughtful. "Only as much as you would like me to recall. What do you remember?"
"Oh, all of it," he said uncomfortably. "Every single word. If you'll recall I was cold sober until Jane appeared with Anna, and we knew everything was fine. Then the effect was virtually instantaneous! I may be vague in my memory of how I got to my room from the study, but everything that happened in the study is clear as a picture in my mind."
Bingley watched his friend for a moment, expecting him to continue. When Darcy made no move to speak further, he said in a low voice "Given the nature of the situation, Darcy, your concerns were perfectly understandable. You may rest assured that I shall repeat none of it, not even to Jane."
Darcy's expression was pained. "It's not the repetition which concerns me, but my utterance in the first place. I only mentioned it in order to facilitate an apology to you. I regret placing you in such an awkward position, listening to me prattle on endlessly."
"Is that all?" Bingley cried. "Why when I think what drivel you've had to listen to from me over the years.......! Darcy, one evening spent with you venting your feelings is small recompense."
Darcy closed his eyes. "Thank you Bingley. I appreciate your understanding although it pains me to think of my display."
"Pah," scoffed his friend.
"Pah on what?" came Jane's voice from behind them. She was followed by a maid carrying a tray laden with a pitcher of lemonade, glasses and a plate of pastries.
"Your husband was merely ridiculing my remaining concerns about Elizabeth's recovery"
Jane smiled sympathetically. "I wouldn't go so far as to ridicule you, but I agree with Charles. Elizabeth's recovery will take time but she will be fine. She was in good spirits when I spoke with her before dinner."
"Then I hope you will speak with her tomorrow after breakfast as well," Darcy replied wearily, "for she was not in a good humor after hearing what McCarthy had to tell her."
"I can understand that," said Jane, who had been privy to the doctor's recommendation. "But she will come around, you know she will. Lizzie's fighting spirit is always aroused by any confrontation."
"Only too true." Darcy muttered.
Bingley couldn't resist teasing his friend. "I believe that is one of her qualities that you found most endearing when you first met!"
"You know it is. And it has certainly lent itself to adding fireworks to our marriage over the years." Darcy leaned back, resting his head against the back of the chair, and closed his eyes. He was silent for so long that his companions began to suspect that he'd fallen asleep.
"I suppose, Bingley," Darcy suddenly said, "that you will not be returning to London for the coming winter?"
"It's not likely, no."
Darcy considered a moment. "I think I shall like to stay at Pemberley this year as well. It will give Elizabeth a good long rest away from the city. Lord, she has hated it here in the summer. Would you care to spend the winter with us at Pemberley? We certainly have the room and the children should love it."
"What a wonderful suggestion!" Jane eagerly nodded.
Darcy continued. "You could come for Christmas and then stay on until spring. Yes, I believe Elizabeth shall like that. We can leave it to you ladies to work out the particulars?"
They were silent for a few minutes before Darcy rose, saying "I must beg your forgiveness, and excuse myself. I really must retire for the evening. It has been a very long, difficult twenty-four hours."
"By all means, Darcy!" the Bingleys cried, assuring him that they, too, would shortly be doing likewise.
"Don't be foolish Elizabeth! Come down from there at once!" Darcy's voice was quiet but the tone was of steel.
Elizabeth was unmoved. "I have been home for three weeks now and I have yet to tour any part of the park. I will not be coddled any longer. If you wish to play nursemaid, Anna is upstairs. If you would rather accompany me then have your own horse readied, but don't be all day about it."
Darcy's narrowed eyes met hers for a moment, then he briefly glanced away to nod at one of the stable lads. The boy hurried into the barn and returned in record time with his master's steed. Darcy practically vaulted into the saddle and looked to Elizabeth.
"Well? Lead on, then."
She gathered up her reins and nudged her mare into a relaxed walk, steering her towards the wooded grove beyond the river once they cleared the yard. She could almost feel her husband's eyes burning into her back as she heard the clip-clop of his horse's hooves behind her.
The grove was only a fifteen minute ride from the house, and a favorite spot of Elizabeth's. She had truly had no intention of sitting in the saddle for long today. Her plan had been to ride to the grove and sit among the trees, in the quiet, amongst the rustling leaves and the squirrels, while her horse contented itself with the ferns and sparse grass available.
The day was perfect; sunny and very warm, an oddity for October. The grove was cool and inviting. Elizabeth reined in her horse and dismounted. Leaving the animal snuffling the ground, she crossed the clearing to the fallen tree she'd had transformed into a bench seat a few years earlier. She sat down and looked back to see Darcy, still mounted, watching her with a narrowed gaze. Regretfully, she recalled her outburst moments before in the stable yard and realized in what an awkward situation she had placed him. I challenged him before the servants, and he had little choice but to give in. How am I to make up for this one?
Darcy dismounted and stood before his wife.
"You could have informed me if this was your intention. I believed you to be contemplating an afternoon's ride around the park."
Elizabeth lowered her eyes in shame. "I must apologize for that scene in the yard. I should never have addressed you thus."
Darcy drew his lips together to form a thin line, in a look that Elizabeth had come to recognize as hurt and defensive.
"I have felt so frustrated at my confinement," she continued, "that I know not what I'm saying half of the time." She looked up at him from behind her eyelashes. "Pray tell me if there is anything I can do to make up for my shabby conduct?"
"Flirting with me will not alter the matter, Elizabeth." His tone was distant. "I have tolerated your ever fluctuating moods through the difficult months of your pregnancy, knowing it to be a byproduct of your frustration and concern for our child. Even following Anna's birth, and coming to terms with the effects that event had on you, on us, I believe I have been very patient with you." His eyes finally met hers unwaveringly. "But even my patience has grown thin, Elizabeth. Anna is nearly three months old now, and we have left London behind for what you assured me would raise your spirits immensely. I, too, am relieved to be at Pemberley once again. But what would give me greater pleasure would be to see you back to yourself.......your happy, lively self." Darcy's eyes softened at this last statement, hinting at a sadness buried deeply within.
Elizabeth felt her own eyes begin to well up, and admonished herself at her lack of self-control. What is wrong with me? she thought. I should be happy. I have five beautiful children and a husband whom I love dearly, and who loves me more than I ever dreamed possible. Yet why this lingering melancholy?
Turning away from Darcy's scrutiny, she busied herself with picking at the few leaves remaining on the nearby low hanging branches. The only sounds were the soft chirping of the birds and an occasional shuffling of the horses' hooves in the underbrush. Elizabeth gave a start at the touch on her cheek as her husband gently wiped away her tears with his handkerchief.
Without a word he seated himself next to her on the bench and drew her into his arms, cradling her head against his chest and gently stroking her hair. When her crying was at last spent, Elizabeth looked up into Darcy's concerned face.
"You haven't cried like that in a long time," he said softly.
"Perhaps I needed to," she whispered. "Perhaps I have finally come to terms with it." At Darcy's raised eyebrows she continued. "Ever since Doctor McCarthy's pronouncement of my physical limitations--'No more children' he said--I have adamantly refused to believe it. But it was still there, in my thoughts, every day."
"No, don't say it. I've been foolish. Selfish and foolish to allow this to cloud my existence; to deprive me of the happy times I could have been spending with my family." She looked up at Darcy, and the sight of her face, with its tear-stained tracks and saddened eyes, tugged at his heart.
"Elizabeth, you have every right to feel angry and bitter about it but, quite honestly," here his tone lightened, trying to tease her out of her low spirits, "how many children did you think we could realistically support?"
A small smile turned the corners of her mouth. Letting out a sigh, Elizabeth leaned into Darcy's chest once again. A worried frown creased his forehead until he heard a low chuckle.
"You do me a great injustice, sir, in poking fun at my delight in providing you with heirs."
Lifting her chin up so that he could meet her eyes, Darcy said in a low voice that he reserved for their private moments "As much as my many heirs delight me, I could be quite content with practice as opposed to production."
Elizabeth flushed as a warmth spread through her. Whenever her husband spoke like this, it triggered a rush of desire through her body. Suddenly aware of his proximity, and his desire in addition to hers, she recalled how long it had been since they had been able to share one another as man and wife. Without thinking she met his lips with hers and reveled in a lengthy, passionate kiss.
Breaking away, Darcy whispered in a ragged voice "Not here, Elizabeth, not now."
His state only served to increase hers, and she fumbled at his cravat so that she might open his shirt. Finally meeting with success, she triumphantly fluttered the material into the air and leveled a look at Darcy that instantly dissolved whatever self-control he may have still possessed.
Groaning, he lowered her from the seat to the soft mossy carpet at their feet. Elizabeth focused her attentions on his now exposed neck and chest, which she had determinedly sought to reveal, fully aware of the effect that she had on him. She gasped in surprise as she felt his hand on the bare skin of her back, wondering how he had managed to open her gown without her being aware. Her momentary inattention allowed Darcy the opportunity to begin his exploration of the hollow curve at the base of her throat. Slowly, agonizingly, he finally arrived at her mouth and, completely oblivious to anything but themselves, the heightened energy of their long-suppressed desire gave way in a wild disarray of clothing.
* * *
Darcy opened one eye lazily. Elizabeth leaned over him, and the sight of her caused him to laugh softly. She frowned at him, and by way of explanation, he raised his hand to pull one of the many leaves from her long dark curls.
"Oh," she smiled, and ran her fingers through her hair, loosening much of the remaining debris in a resultant shower of twigs and leaves onto her husband's bare chest. His eyes continued to laugh at her, and Elizabeth scolded him in mock severity. "Sir, I certainly shall not be able to reenter the house in this state! Nothing short of a brush and a complete change of clothing will return me to a condition fit to be seen!"
"There is nothing wrong in what I see," Darcy began, but raised his arms to ward off a playful swat from his wife. "All right, all right! Since you neglected to bring your maid along, I will have to serve as your dresser." He rose and described a low bow. "At your service, Madame."
Elizabeth laughed at the picture of her husband clad only in breeches, and barely clad at that, attempting an appearance of formality. Gathering her skirts she stood and turned her back to him.
"You may begin with the buttons, sir," she said as she lifted her hair out of the way.
With her help, Darcy rearranged the bodice and began to refasten the buttons up the back of the gown. As he neared the top, however, the sight of her bare neck and shoulders began to interfere with his attention to the task at hand. Setting his resolve, he finished the last of the buttons and allowed himself the pleasure of running his finger softly up the back of Elizabeth's neck and around to her chin.
She turned to face him once more. Raising her eyebrows, she said mischievously "I believe, sir, that you neglected to bring your servant as well. How dreadfully inconvenient, as I must now return your favor and offer my assistance."
A wicked grin spread across her face as Darcy turned to retrieve his shirt from the ground. She quickly schooled her features to one of calm seriousness as he looked to her expectantly. Stepping closer, Elizabeth began brushing off the leaves and dirt that had fallen on him from her hair, and, slowly circling him, ensured herself that no other debris lingered on his skin which may later cause irritation.
Darcy quickly slipped on his shirt and began tucking it into his breeches. While thus employed, Elizabeth dusted off his waistcoat and held it out ready for him to put on. While he busied himself with these buttons, she looked around for his cravat.
Now where on earth is it? Aahh! She spotted it crumpled at the foot of the bench. It needed some liberal shaking out to ensure that no insects loitered in the folds of the cloth. As she leaned close to place the cloth under her husband's collar, brushing gently against him, she heard his soft intake of breath and smiled to herself. Continuing her ministrations, Elizabeth managed to divide her attention equally between arranging his cravat and teasingly letting her fingers brush over the exposed skin of his neck.
"Elizabeth," Darcy murmured as he took hold of her hands, "if you ever wish us to leave this grove........" His words trailed off as he lowered his head to nuzzle her neck.
"I fear you may be right," she said as she gently pushed him away. "Now, your jacket, sir!" and, as he put it on, "I'm afraid there is no hope for my hair, though. I've lost my pins somewhere."
"Well, it wouldn't be the first time you've ridden around the countryside with your hair down." Darcy grinned. "But the leaves may require a little explaining."
Elizabeth haughtily declared "Considering the adornments in your own hair, I doubt any explanation will be necessary, nor would it be credible!"
Briskly running his hands through his hair, Darcy acknowledged her argument. After a final inspection of each other's appearance, they agreed that nothing more could be done to effect an improvement and retrieved their horses.
Exiting the grove from the opposite side, the Darcys chose to make a quick circuit of the lower pasture before returning to the stables, partly to regain their composure, but also to provide them with a legitimate answer to any enquiries about their afternoon.
They need not have been concerned, for upon their return, the happy and relaxed countenance of each only served to satisfy the curiosity and concern of all who had been worried for the recent low spirits of the couple.
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