April 27th 1813
It was a warm afternoon, and the ride back to Pemberley, protected by the shades of the trees and the cool breeze that played on their leaves, was very pleasant. Mr. Darcy’s pace was as lively as always when he returned to his wife, independent of how tiring the day had been.
He was planning the building of a new mill, and he had long meetings with a wide range of people. Mr. Darcy was a perfectionist and that had cost him a great deal of time during the past few weeks. He barely saw his beloved Elizabeth in the mornings, for after their delicious awakings in each other’s arms, he had to leave her to prepare for the day before they barely had time to talk at all. Consequently, Mr. Darcy had to content himself with enjoying his wife’s company only in the evenings and at night. He appreciated especially their leisure spent after they both retired, when he had his wife all for his own, with no one to share her smiles and her words of kindness and love. They would always talk at night, before their bodies joined. Their minds sought comfort by confiding to each other whatever burdened them. Elizabeth had the ability to soothe him, to make the fatigue of the day vanish and the prospect of tomorrow appear brighter than he could have ever dreamt. When he adoringly thanked her for making his world such a wonderful place, she replied that he made her life complete simply by his presence next to her.
Those times were beautiful indeed, but they were not only spent in declaration of the depth of their feelings. The couple would also mention anecdotes, or talk about their past, citing precious memories of the years before they were introduced. They would speak of literature, music and their neighbors. Whatever they chose to dwell upon, it was certain that Darcy would find the conversation meaningful and treasure it, as it gave him the means of understanding his wife even better. He learned her whims and her bad moods, and he loved her the more for them. He discovered her likes and dislikes. He believed that the ability to give Elizabeth happiness that he now possessed was the greatest gift that had ever been bestowed upon him.
He knew her secrets. She had opened her heart to him, she had trusted him and she had talked to him about her fears and embarrassments, about the sorrows of her life, small or great. He had responded by talking of despair and loss, and then of light and hope. He had let her rest in his arms and had found his haven in her embrace. He had made love to her slowly and adoringly, again and again. And every time that she surrendered completely to the intensity of their union, when she danced with him into that swirl of colors and fragrances and winds, every time that she cried as he released his seed into her, the invisible thread that bound their bodies and souls gained in strength.
A little more than five months had passed since the blessed day that they had become man and wife. He could not remember a time in his life when he did not know her and need her and love her. She had completed his life, packing away the restlessness that had tormented him for years. She was his wife, friend and lover—a lover who had learned from him the secrets of pleasure, but who had also taught him the meaning of giving, of trusting, and of sharing a passion he had never dreamt possible. She was his equal.
Such pleasant musings kept his mind occupied and made the distance until he reached the house seem much shorter. He was so absorbed in his thoughts that he did not perceive anything unusual in the frequency with which the servants went up and down the stairs. Elizabeth was nowhere to be seen, and he was about to ask a footman about her whereabouts, when Mrs. Reynolds appeared. Her presence was quite welcome, as she was certain to know the whereabouts of her mistress.
It was very unlike Elizabeth not to be present when he arrived. She always waited for him in the drawing room or in the music room. Sometimes, she would even pleasantly surprise him by standing at the door of the house to give him his welcoming kiss as he entered. Her absence alarmed him.
“Mrs. Reynolds, I am looking for Mrs. Darcy. Do you happen to know where she is?”
“She is upstairs, sir.”
“Upstairs? What is she doing upstairs?”
“Well, sir, Mrs. Darcy was not feeling very well and…”
Fear crept into Mr. Darcy’s heart. While it was true that Mrs. Reynolds did not appear overly distressed, he wondered if she were trying to break some awful news to him, and in her calm demeanor, she was showing consideration.
“There is no need to be worried, Mr. Darcy.” Mrs. Reynolds was as comforting as she had been when he was a child, but now he found her attitude rather patronizing, and he was not pleased. “It is very natural that a young, newly-wedded woman feels weak and…”
“Weak?” The word kept echoing in his ears, and he did not notice what else his housekeeper had said.
“Yes, Mr. Darcy. Weakness… light-headedness… These things are not unheard of.”
“Mrs. Darcy was perfectly fine this morning when I left her! What exactly has happened since then, Mrs. Reynolds? I want the entire truth!”
The housekeeper sighed, resigned. She had known from the beginning that her master would overreact over the whole affair, and by the looks of it, she could do nothing about it.
“Mrs. Darcy felt a bit unwell just after breakfast. She thought that some morning air would do her good, but as she was preparing to leave for a walk, she felt very dizzy and…”
“And?” Darcy had forgotten to breathe.
“She fainted,” Mrs. Reynolds said very quietly.
“Elizabeth fainted?” Mr. Darcy had started climbing up the stairs to his wife’s room and now his pace turned even quicker, his housekeeper at his heels.
“Well, she lost her consciousness, but only for a matter of seconds, sir.”
“Good lord! Why was I not informed?” He turned on the stairs and gave the loyal servant one of the stares that were notorious among his staff and that would have hurt the feelings of someone who knew and loved her master less than Mrs. Reynolds.
“The mistress became alert only moments later, and she was fine.” She accentuated her last word, hoping to reassure the panicked man before her. Mrs. Reynolds seized his arm to slow his progress up the stairs. “Mrs. Darcy instructed us not to disturb you, as the whole incidence was no more than a trifle.”
“A trifle? You ought to know better, Mrs. Reynolds! I know that you do not wish to disobey your mistress, but surely you understand that she was only unwilling to interrupt my business. However, you should know that no business is more important than my wife.”
“If I may, sir, I think she was right about not wishing to alarm you. Besides, we called for the doctor.”
“Dr. Andrews came?” Darcy sounded a bit more relieved. “Is he here?”
“No, he left quite a while ago. He had to attend poor Mrs. Corbel in Lambton.”
“What did he say?” Darcy was of a mind to go to Lambton to search for him and ask him in person, but he was anxious to see his wife.
“You had better talk to your wife, Mr. Darcy.”
They had reached Elizabeth’s door. “Thank you, Mrs. Reynolds. That I will.”
Darcy entered his wife’s bedchamber very quietly and walked to the bed to find her resting, her eyes closed. She looked as beautiful as ever, her curls falling richly around her arms, while a few disobedient locks preferred her face. He noticed that her skin had the rosy color of good health, and he exhaled gratefully. She may have been fatigued, but she did not look ill. He sat on the bed with the utmost care. Elizabeth’s eyes were still closed, but a smile graced her face.
“I am not asleep, Fitzwilliam. I know you are there, looking very worried and concerned. Perhaps a little angry, too, that you were not told sooner.” She slowly opened her eyes to see that her teasing had not made her husband relax in the slightest. Her smile did not falter, however.
“You know only too well that I am not angry with you, but I am concerned.” He paused as he recalled the agony he had experienced earlier and the fear that still possessed his heart. “You fainted,” he finished simply.
“I did,” Elizabeth answered as seriously, but then her smile returned. “Though not quite as dramatically as last autumn, for the man I love was not in the room. I regained consciousness, listening to poor Maggie’s shrieks instead of your loving entreaties.”
“You mentioned last September, and surely, Elizabeth, you know what anguish I felt then, as I do now.”
She took his hand into hers. “I am sorry that I did not let anyone tell you, but Mrs. Reynolds agreed it was the right thing to do. We were afraid you would try to hasten your return, riding recklessly and exposing yourself to danger. There is nothing at all wrong with me, rest assured. Mr. Andrews is positive that all is as it should be.”
“How can that be? In what way is it natural to faint? Indeed, you must be ill.”
“No. You take such good care of me that you never let so much as a cold breeze reach me.”
“Do not prolong my agony, dearest. What exactly did the doctor say?”
She smiled again. “We should be grateful to my fainting propensity, my love. The previous time I fainted, I began to think that you might love me after all, and now, there is good reason to suppose that…”
“That?” Unconsciously, his hand clasped hers, but she only smiled even more widely than before and continued.
“That we are going to be parents, Fitzwilliam.” She watched for a reaction from him, but there was none. “We cannot be certain until the baby quickens, but all the signs point to it being so. I had my suspicions for a few weeks, and now I feel this fatigue and sleepiness, and my appetite changes all the time. Even my body has altered a little, have you not noticed? The fainting is only normal. We are going to have a baby. Are you pleased, my…”
His lips interrupted her words, tenderly as if she were a fragile fairy, but persistent in their devoted attention to her. She fell into his arms, relishing his kiss and his embrace. Minutes passed by, and the glorious colors of sunset invaded the room, bathing all the details of the scene in their golden light, but the couple took no notice of it. Mr. Darcy was able to talk only after a considerable amount of time had passed.
“I am afraid words cannot begin to describe my happiness right now.”
“It is quite all right,” Elizabeth whispered against his neck. “Your every look and touch and movement says everything I have always wished to hear.”
He inhaled the fragrance of her hair, grateful for having her so close. “Do I give you even a portion of happiness that you have given me, Elizabeth?”
“You give me all the happiness that exists in the world. I wonder that there is any left for other couples!”
“Happiness and love only multiply. That is what I have believed since we were married.”
“I believe it, too, Fitzwilliam,” Elizabeth replied, patting her belly with her hand. “I do, too.”
…Fitzwilliam has loved me in many ways since our first night together, and I believe that what we share is so strong and unique that we will always find new forms of expressing it, both in language and with our bodies.
This evening after I shared my news with my darling husband, passion was born from our happiness and nurtured by his ineffable tenderness. I do not know how his adoring, soothing caresses brought about such a slow, consuming flame and need within me. When he was inside me, making me his once again with devotion and gentle insistence, he led me to the pleasure he has taught me to give and receive. It was as if the entire world did not exist any longer, and there was only the two of us and our unborn child. I let my body talk to him about my feelings, and he recognized, understood and treasured them without speaking. We lay embracing for a long time after our pulses returned to normal—naked, our bodies touching, our hands caressing each other and our eyes locked.
Then we slowly dressed each other. I did not wish to call for my maid, and Fitzwilliam assured me that my efforts pleased him infinitely more than those of his valet. His hands lingered as he smoothed my dress, stroking my belly, as if speaking to our child, calming both the baby and me with his caresses. I kissed him and tried to convey all my love in that kiss. He must have understood because his eyes were glistening when I looked back at his beloved face. Soon we left the room to set out for the walk that I had wished for so much.
Even though Mrs. Reynolds assured me that my condition should not change my daily routine, I am certain she was not exactly overwhelmed with joy when she saw us preparing for a walk at dusk. However, she only inquired if Mr. Darcy felt less worried now, and she did not appear surprised when he hugged her, kissed her cheek and told her that he had never felt better in his life.
After we had gone outside, I was in an exceedingly happy mood, and I allowed myself to laugh and kiss his cheek. This night was special for me, and so it was for Fitzwilliam. Soon his hand moved to hold me about the waist, claiming that I needed that kind of support, while in truth, he did it only to tease me with his caresses. We talked of everything and nothing, but most topics led us to my condition.
“We should inform your parents and sisters as soon as possible,” he said pensively.
I chuckled. “Yes, and we are very fortunate that I will do so by letter, and you will not be there to witness my mother’s reaction.”
“My dear, I believe you are jealous of your mother’s affection for me. In truth, I regret that I will not be able to receive her congratulations and praise in person.”
“Fitzwilliam!” I tried to feign being angry, but failed miserably. “Do you not know that you should not tease a woman in my condition?”
His deep, genuine laughter followed an irresistible look in his eyes and the appearance of his dimples. My husband is the best looking man I know, and when he smiles or laughs, he has the ability to steal my breath away even now.
“Is that so? Then I am certain that women in your condition should not tease their poor husbands, either, or take them for long walks in the evenings, or disobey any wish of theirs...”
“Quite the contrary. My condition demands that all my wishes are fulfilled,” I said and then realized that his face was too close to mine, and his touch was too delicious, and that if I had only one wish, it was to be kissed.
As my husband had brilliant insight into my thoughts, he granted my desire with such fervor that left me breathless, dizzy and wanting more. We changed direction, walking back to the house.
“You know, Fitzwilliam, my condition does not forbid such exquisite arguments as we just had.”
“Nor the reconciliation that is bound to follow, I suspect?”
After more than five months of marriage, he still had the ability to make me blush. “No, it is very welcome, indeed.”
We were very close to the house. “It is fortunate then that we will have ample cause for arguments in the next months,” he said with that teasing smile of his that always made me want to kiss him. “For example, I have no doubt that we will have great trouble choosing the child’s name.”
The thought of arguing about anything related to our offspring made me aware of a new wave of happiness that had found its way into my very heart. “At least we are in agreement about this: We will never let any of our children anywhere near Ann Radcliff’s novels,” I said with mock gravity.
We had already entered the house and stood in front of the staircase. Fitzwilliam took both my hands in his and kissed them tenderly. He continued holding them and caressing them with his thumbs as he spoke.
“But my love, I am very grateful to Mrs. Radcliff’s heroines for having set the example. Despite all their failings, their and your faintings have made us very happy.”
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