Chapters Sixteen-Eighteen



Chapter Sixteen

Elizabeth seemed unable to calm down. She sobbed repeatedly into her husband’s shoulder as she whispered “I’m not worthy.” He didn’t know what to do. For the first time in his life, he felt utterly helpless. He tried to make her lie down in her bed and find out why the doctor was taking so long. Each movement he tried only caused Elizabeth to grasp his arms tighter.

“No, don’t leave me, sir.” She whispered barely audible, “Please hold me.”

Darcy leaned back against the headboard and arranged her carefully in his lap, so she could rest her head against his broad chest. Encircling his waist tightly, she inhaled deeply to compose herself, finding comfort in the sound beat of his heart, his spicy scent and his stroking hands that brought warmth back to her trembling body.

Her plea touched his heart deeply and then he was no longer able to control his own distress. Silent tears fell down his cheek which he dried as he gently rubbed his face in her brown curls. He sighed deeply and held her tightly against his body, reeling in the sensation of having her beloved form in his arms. Her trembling gradually quieted down and she seemed to relax. At last, she stopped mumbling about her lack of worthiness. He turned her face towards him with such gentle care. She had fallen asleep though her tears seemed to not stop. Rage ran through his body as he thought of the misery caused by his own aunt. How dared she treat her so infamously!

He kissed her forehead lovingly and whispered into her hair the depth of his feelings for her. Then he silently resolved not to relinquish his hold of her until the doctor’s arrival.

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For a few days, Elizabeth had suffered from a feverish restlessness leaving both her mind and body in a weakened state. By the end of the week, she slowly seemed to recover though her pale face and the unusual lack of vitality worried all those who surrounded her. The servants were subdued and whispered inside and even outside the house. Georgiana’s pianoforte had been silent ever since the fatal miscarriage. And Darcy was agitated and unyielding about leaving his wife’s side. Elizabeth had never voiced if she wished him to go and ever since she asked him to hold her, he seemed unable to leave her.

A wearisome silence enfolded Pemberley as its mistress fell into depression.

Lady Catherine’s words had affected Elizabeth profoundly. Even though her husband reassured her repeatedly that he was not disappointed with her, she felt despondent and hopeless. The loss of the child filled her with infinite sadness and she knew her husband had to be disappointed as well.

The concept of becoming a mother was something she had never dwelled upon. Of course she had known that as a wife it would be required from her to produce at least an heir. She loved children but she had never really envisioned becoming a mother so soon. And now it would not happen. Could fate have punished her for her own stupidity? She had scorned the love of a generous and honourable man for her own vanity? Pride? She couldn’t help feeling that somehow she was responsible for the miscarriage. She had been unable to protect a baby… Her baby… and William’s…

The situation also made her realise that sooner or later she would have to accept her husband in her bed. He would certainly expect to sire an heir. Would she willingly share her bed? Would she willingly accept her husband’s addresses? The intimacy of her husband’s embrace? She felt her face and neck flush as she recalled that fateful night, the last time they had been together. An unexpected feeling of longing and emptiness aroused her body. She felt warm just by remembering Darcy’s hot skin upon hers and the memorable sensations that had coursed through her body that night.

These musings endlessly circled her mind which brought Elizabeth to her present state of melancholy. She was sitting on a window seat in her bedroom, leaning against the windowpane, looking for some sign that her pain would become bearable and that her husband would not shun her, as Lady Catherine had decreed.

She was hoping that he would offer his love to her again.

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The melody played by Georgiana relaxed them after dinner. Darcy silently observed his wife as she was working on a white sampler. She was slowly recovering and this was the first time she came down for dinner. As each intimate detail of her curvaceous body had been engraved in his mind ever since their wedding night, Darcy was able to notice that her complexion was still very pale and that she was much thinner. The dark circles beneath her eyes betrayed her restless nights and the aura of sadness that now surrounded her permanently.

This miserable mood did not become her and it wounded his heart. He mourned the loss of his child… their child… and he seemed to be mourning the loss of his wife as well. For she did not love him and their marriage, which he had looked upon as a blessing, had become for her a dreadful imposition.

Or at least it had been so. Recently she seemed to be overcoming the awkwardness between them. It was as if the tragedy of losing their baby had brought them together. He glanced at her beloved face once more. Would she ever become herself again? The lively Lizzy that he had admired and fallen in love with? Darcy sighed and wished that he could do anything to get a smile on her beautiful face. He longed to feel the exquisiteness of her soft skin beneath his again. He closed his eyes and lost himself in the memory of their last joining as husband and wife. He had managed at last to make her take pleasure in the act… But, then the horrible words exchanged between them… her admission that she did not love him…

His eyes were promptly brimming with tears and in a feeble attempt to hide them he stood up abruptly and walked towards a window. As he stared into the darkness that fell upon Pemberley, he wished to make her happy. And then, a sudden plan unfolded in his mind.

He looked back at his wife who was frowning into her lap as she fingered the sampler. He tentatively approached her and he was encouraged as she looked up at him and smiled shyly. Somehow, Darcy felt nervous as if it were the first time he was addressing her. It was almost like he was about to court a young lady for the first… A thought struck him violently! He had been very incompetent in courting her before their wedding! How could he have expected her to fall in love with him? He had never tried to gain her good opinion! Of course, during their engagement there were some tender moments… but he had never tried to win her heart before that.

The realization of his failure as a suitor struck him. It ashamed him. The embarrassment compelled to look away from her beautiful dark eyes. However, he felt her lingering and curious gaze upon him, waiting, expecting that he would tell her what was on his mind. He could feel his skin tingling as if her gaze could touch him. He breathed in deeply and turned his eyes towards her lovely face again.

Elizabeth smiled at him, encouraging him to speak. “What is it, sir? Do you wish something?” His shyness always surprised her. It baffled her that such a proud and powerful man could be so bashful and reticent in social interactions. How could that have escaped her? She, who prided herself in being able to judge people correctly? Her husband was neither arrogant nor prejudiced… He was simply… shy, a shy boy… A wave of tenderness for this man filled her and it spread all over her countenance.

He smiled coyly at his wife and thought, Oh if you knew what I wish for, my precious little one! He sat next to her and held out his hand in which she instinctively put hers. Her gesture marvelled him. As he beamed at her, Elizabeth felt she was losing herself in his warm gaze and in the sight of his adorable dimples.

Georgiana had observed their awkward interaction from the pianoforte. She smiled when her brother sat next to Elizabeth. She felt content as everything seemed to be falling into its rightful place. Her new sister did not seem so unhappy now and she was recovering from the loss of her child. She hesitated as she played the keys. Should she leave the couple to themselves? Or should she encourage their mood by playing something more romantic? A large grin brightened her pretty face. Yes, she thought, this piece will do. She chose to play Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro.

Unaware of his little sister’s hand in their romance, Darcy enquired his wife about her health and how she was recovering. She replied softly that she was regaining her health though she kept silent about her mind. Not wanting to their interaction to fall into awkward silence, he pointed at the work in her lap and enquired about what she was doing.

“Oh, this? It is just a handkerchief. I needed my new initials on it, sir.” Her eyes opened wide in surprise when he reached for the delicate cloth and caressed the monogram she was working on.

Emboldened by his gesture, she reached for her sewing basket and retrieved a small package wrapped in paper and tied with a blue silk ribbon. She first hesitated and looked at him timidly but then place the package in his lap.

“What is this, Elizabeth?” he inquired smiling.

“I would have said that even you, sir, would recognise a present.” She chuckled lightly but her nervousness was betrayed by her fine eyes. “Will you open it, William?” she added in a small voice.

He eyed her carefully and then focused on the package. He felt giddy as he quickly opened it and counted seven handkerchiefs folded very neatly. They bore his monogram. They were all different but all of them had sweet williams embroidered entwining the letters FD. He fingered each one gently and looked up at his wife.

Elizabeth gasped lightly as she saw the tenderness and warmth in his beautiful dark eyes. His handsome face was softened by the expression of his heartfelt delight from a small simple gesture. For him, it was not any gift: his wife had dedicated her time thinking of him, doing something for him, to please him. He breathed in deeply as he realized the enormity of something so small yet so touching.

“It is one for each day of the week.” she added anxiously. “Does it please you, sir?”

He reached for her right hand and kissed each finger reverently. Her skin flushed with the expression of such devotion cherished upon her. As he brushed his moist warm lips on her palm and wrist, she shuddered. He smiled satisfied as he noticed her reaction to his touch.

“Yes, Elizabeth. They please me… immensely. I shall be honoured to wear them every day and keep them close to my heart… where you belong.” He whispered as he leaned in closer to her.

Deep red coloured her face and he was delighted with her. Why hadn’t he thought of this before? Courting his wife promised to be very delightful and… dared he even hope… productive? His plan… Yes, he thought, I need to set it in motion!

“Elizabeth? How would you like… Would you like a change of scenery?” he asked her as he caressed her hand with tiny gentle circles with his thumb.

“What do you mean, sir? Leave Pemberley?” she inquired surprised.

“Yes. Have you ever been at the seaside?” She nodded negatively and her eyes were already filling with enthusiasm. He added softly “Then, would you like to go to Brighton?”

“Brighton? We will go to Brighton? When?” Her eagerness made her eyes sparkle in the way he loved to see them. She seemed to radiate and her excitement rendered her an adorable sight to gaze upon. He laughed softly and the sight of his dimples once again caused Elizabeth to stare at the swift changes in her husband’s disposition. He was a handsome man and she had always acknowledged that. But the smiles, the dimples and his laugh transformed him. She could not but stare in wonder.

“Yes, we will my dear. Perhaps in a week or two. There are arrangements to be taken care of first. And, of course, we shall only go if you are feeling better. I hope the sea and the sun will make you recover fully, Elizabeth.” He added concerned.

“That would be wonderful…” she replied softly.

Inspired by the happiness shining in her fine eyes, Darcy continued. “On our way to Brighton, we could stop at Netherfield for a few days. Would you like that?” He asked her chuckling lightly as he watched her surprise.

“Netherfield? Jane? Mamma… Jane!” she cried. “Oh yes, William! I would like that very much! Very much indeed!” And with that she dared to move closer to him and threw her arms around his neck. Looking straight into his eyes she whispered “William… Thank you, William.”

He held her very tightly and his heart swelled with love for her. He softly kissed the top of her head and whispered her name into her hair.

Georgiana, who had been playing, suddenly noticed the intimate embrace. She smiled at the sight, happy that Elizabeth and William were overcoming their sadness. She quitted playing and quietly left the room. The couple had not even noticed her absence nor the silence surrounding them.

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Chapter Seventeen

A week later, the Darcys were arriving at Netherfield. The journey had been a long one as Darcy had insisted to stop at an inn for the night, so that Elizabeth could get some rest. Despite her obvious enthusiasm for seeing her family again, he could see that she was still very weak and suffering in silence. He hoped that this trip to Brighton would allow her to recover swiftly. And if his wooing proved to be successful, they would be able to increase the intimacy between them and hopefully he could win her love.

Due to their imminent departure, he had been unable to lavish his wife with attentions as he had planned. He had to work very hard to leave his estate and business affairs in order so that he could fully dedicate himself to his wife later. There had also been several arrangements that he had needed to make to organize their stay at both Netherfield and Brighton.

He let his gaze fall upon her sleepy form that was curled up against his chest. The lavender scent from her hair intoxicated his senses. Having her in his arms filled him with the hope that her feelings were shifting. She sought my embrace in her sleep, he thought, but she did it unconsciously. Could it mean that she would be able to love me? Or was she merely seeking comfort? He silently prayed for her love as he kissed lightly the top of her head.

Darcy glanced out observing the passing landscape. He recognized immediately the outskirts of Meryton. I have to wake them, he thought, as he glanced at his sister sleeping in the seat across them. But before rousing Georgiana from her sleep, he wanted to indulge himself in the pleasure of waking his wife privately. He brushed her face softly, caressing her eyelids and cheeks with feathery touches. Slowly she stirred in his arms as he whispered her name in her ear.

Elizabeth’s eyelids fluttered and she found herself staring directly into her husband’s deep dark eyes. She blushed as she became conscious her predicament: she was lying unabashedly in his arms, snuggled against his chest. She moved softly and grew even more embarrassed as she realized her hands had somehow sneaked into Darcy’s vest and were placed on his firm chest covered by the thin linen of his shirt. He understood her awkwardness and smiled at her. He caught her fleeing hands and kissed them tenderly as he held her puzzled gaze.

“Good morning, Elizabeth” he whispered. “Or should I rather say good evening?”

She laughed quietly in return and enquired about their whereabouts.

The fact that they were rapidly approaching their destination made her release herself from the warmth of her husband’s embrace. A quick exchange of shy glances and smiles revealed to both of them they regretted the separation very much.

Elizabeth’s excitement about seeing her family became suddenly subdued. She feared exposing her husband and Georgiana to the vulgarity of her mother and her younger sister’s behaviour. After the shame that Lydia had brought upon her and the Darcys, Elizabeth feared that her connections would only bring additional distress to her fragile marriage. The truce she was living with Darcy was, she believed, a very delicate one. And it could be easily destroyed by her mother’s conduct and lack of decorum.

She watched Darcy and Georgiana’s quiet interaction as he described to his little sister the places they were passing through. She could only but hope that her mother and sisters refrain themselves from commenting on the Wickhams. Georgiana would certainly be upset and her husband seriously displeased.

A weary sigh escaped from her which drew Darcy’s attention to his wife. He understood her concerns. He could see her apprehension plainly written upon her pale face. Extending his arm, he offered her his ungloved hand. She looked into his eyes raising her brow quizzically. His lips curled into a shy but inviting smile as she slipped her small hand into his. Her fingers were quickly interlaced by his stronger ones and the warmth of his skin and his gesture reassured her.

Netherfield came into view at last. Memories of their shared history at this house flashed through the couple’s minds as they observed it. It seems as it was a lifetime ago and so much has changed in my life, Elizabeth thought wearily.

Darcy squeezed her fingers affectionately but sadly mused about the dreams of loving Elizabeth that he had the last time he was at Netherfield and how different the reality of his marriage had become. I shall conquer this! He repeated to himself vehemently. I shall conquer this!

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Elizabeth was extremely disappointed. Jane was not at Netherfield. Their Uncle Gardiner had visited her mother and sisters a week ago and had invited Jane to stay with him in London for a month. How unfortunate that Darcy’s express had arrived precisely on the same day of their departure and after they had left on their journey towards town! Why have we come? she muttered annoyed.

She had sought the refuge of Netherfield’s rose garden to clear her head from her mother’s constant wailings and lecturing. She sighed in frustration. She had longed to be with Jane, only to have found out that she was not there! She was subjecting her husband and her sister-in-law to her mother’s nefarious presence… for nothing! Her mother had not changed at all. Worse, thought Elizabeth, she had changed for the worse! She winced as thought of her mother’s endless complaints and flutterings.

Mrs Bennet complained constantly about the new housekeeper, the new steward and the governess. Elizabeth learned that her husband had hired them all after Lydia’s infamous elopement. Why didn’t he tell her? She understood his reasons, though. Her mother had been behaving more foolishly and recklessly since her father’s death and the loose reign upon her younger sisters’ behaviour had contributed for the near ruin of their reputation. Someone had to control that woman! Her poor father had never had the trouble to control them. She acknowledged that even though it hurt her. She had loved her father dearly and missed him terribly but she understood that he had failed as a parent as much as her silly mother.

Even though Mrs Bennet’s sole purpose was to complain about her son-in-law’s “cruelty” and attempting to gain Mrs Darcy’s favour, she unwillingly provided her daughter with information he had wanted to conceal from her. Thus, she learned all about Lydia’s sordid affair and how her husband had not been meagre with expenses at Netherfield. Having hired an efficient housekeeper, a competent steward and a strict governess, it was clear that his intent was to keep Netherfield under tight regulation and provide her sisters with the education and well-bred manners that her parents had never troubled themselves with. And realizing both her husband’s kindness and interference as well as her parents’ shortcomings left Elizabeth brooding over her previous cruelty towards her husband as well as her unworthiness. She was deeply vexed. What had he done for her family? For her? She was unworthy of his devotion! Perhaps Lady Catherine was right… she was not fit to be a Darcy…

Her beautiful eyes filled with tears at the thought of her last encounter with that woman. Her cruel remarks and the memory of her loss were still freshly engraved on her mind. It grieved her immensely. She attempted to restrain a sob when she saw her mother running towards her. She groaned as her short respite had abruptly come to an end. She stood up and started towards the house.

“Lizzy! Wait Lizzy!” Mrs Bennet screeched loudly as she followed an exasperated Elizabeth through the French doors into the drawing room. “Ungrateful child! You are determined to vex me!”

“Mama! I beg you to stop this instant! You are causing me a dreadful headache! I must get some rest…” Elizabeth pleaded wearily. She sat despondently in a settee and dropped her head into her hands. She thought about the initial joy of seeing her family now evaporating into the mist of unwavering annoyance embodied in her mother’s person. Why have we come? , she moaned inwardly.

“But Lizzy, how can you be so unfeeling towards your sisters? You should be throwing them into the paths of other rich men! Why, Mr Darcy must certainly have many rich friends willing to marry your sisters!”

“Mama, I will tell you again, for the thirteenth time, that Mr Darcy and I will not give a ball! You cannot come to Pemberley now! Have you forgotten that we are still in mourning? It is simply unacceptable!”

“Elizabeth! You have no respect for my nerves! I insist that you give a ball!” Mrs Bennet shrieked attracting the attention of Kitty and Mary into the room. She threw herself into an armchair waving her handkerchief in front of her flustered face, moaning petulantly and crying. Elizabeth flushed from embarrassment from her mother’s behaviour. She was acting wildly and childishly. How could she be so disrespectful of her father’s memory and disregard her own wishes?

“Lizzy, you shall be brought to reason! I will speak to Mr Darcy about it myself directly.”

“Mama! I beseech you not to disturb Mr Darcy! He will be quite put out I assure you!” She pleaded again horrified at the thought of her mother imposing her ridiculous requests upon him. “Promise me you will not upset him!”

“You… you are a very headstrong foolish girl!” Mrs Bennet stood up brusquely and paced in front of her daughter. “Oh how I suffer! What shall become of us! You do not know your own interests! If only Lydia had been fortunate enough to marry Mr Darcy! Yes, she would have provided for entertainment to lure rich husbands for your sisters!”

Elizabeth stared stupefied at her mother. She lost the ability to think or utter a word. Lydia? Married to Mr Darcy? She shuddered in disgust from the mere thought.

“But, no… I cannot count on dear Mrs Wickham and her charming husband! Such an amiable young man… and in regimentals… how fetching!” An odd twinkle in Mrs Bennet’s eyes caused Elizabeth to startle at her words. Could her mother be… lusting over her own son-in-law? A wave of nausea coursed through her body. She tried to focus on her mother’s babbling instead.

“My poor Lydia… They had to be sent so far away to Newcastle! If only… Mr Darcy could have bought them Haye-Park or even the house at Stoke…”

“Mother!” Elizabeth exclaimed horrified.

“… maybe I should speak to him about it. Yes, it would give me great comfort to have Lydia and dearest Wickham so close! It would be of great comfort to me!”

“Mother! I forbid you to even mention the Wickhams to Mr Darcy!” she cried forcefully. Disregarding her mother’s astonishment and mute shock, Elizabeth explained to her briefly that her husband’s generosity would certainly come to an end if he was grievously displeased. It took her some time to convince her mother to not bring up the subject of her sister’s marriage and husband to

Mr Darcy’s attention. As soon as this conflict was over, the former one exploded again to her dismay.

“Oh, what will become of your sisters?” her mother continued on as she collapsed again into the armchair. “My dear Kitty, fetch me my salts! I am in such a flutter! Your sister is determined to ruin us!”

Kitty ran towards her mother and fussed about her. Mary buried her face further into her book determined to not be disturbed by the argument.

Elizabeth felt the limits of her patience burst. She closed her eyes tightly and tried in vain to control her rage, her frustration and her mortification. Should she simply leave to her room and ignore her mother? She opened her eyes slowly and coolly inquired her mother, “Pray, madam, how will I ruin you or my sisters? I do not understand you at all!”

“I should never speak to you again, ungrateful girl! I have no pleasure in talking to undutiful children… Not that I have much pleasure indeed in talking to anybody, mind you. People who suffer as I do from nervous complaints can have no great inclination for talking. Nobody can tell what I suffer!”

“Mother!” Elizabeth was tired of this incoherent argument. She rose and approached a window and stared at the grounds. She would have to ask her husband to leave tomorrow. Right after visiting Charlotte at Longbourn. She would not subject herself any longer to her mother’s mindless and hurtful words. She tried to shut herself from her mother’s tirade for as long as she could. But her expression soon turned livid as she apprehended what her mother was now scolding her about.

“… and what is to become of us all? Mr Darcy will certainly turn us out and where will I go? What of your sisters?”

Elizabeth turned to face her mother and swiftly approached her. Confusion was blurring her eyes.

“Of what are you now talking, mama?” She inquired suspiciously. “Why would my husband turn you out of Netherfield?”

“Have you no compassion for my nerves? Have you not been listening to me? You shall be the death of me!” she cried indignantly. “You have not done your duty! I warned you, Lizzy, before your wedding! A wife’s duty is to provide her husband an heir!”

Elizabeth gasped aghast. She collapsed into the nearest chair trembling from her reawakened grief. How could she be so heartless? My own mother…

“Look at that artful Charlotte Collins! She is already near the end of her confinement and will give that odious Mr Collins an heir… an heir to Longbourn… that could still be ours if you had not refused him!” She turned away and loudly mumbled “Undeserving daughter!” She faced Elizabeth again and added cruelly “You know Lizzy, if you do not become with child, Mr Darcy will resent you and might even ask for an annulment! For it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a married man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of an heir!”

Unable to move or say a word, Elizabeth was in shock. She just sat there.

“… an annulment! He will certainly turn us out! What is to become of us all? But I tell you what, Mrs Darcy, if your husband wishes for an annulment – I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you! I shall not be able to keep you… and so I warn you.”

Her mother’s voice seemed to become farther from her notice. Elizabeth felt mentally and physically exhausted. Too overcome with grief to pay heed to her mother any more or even take notice of anyone’s presence. She stood and swayed slightly with dizziness. In deep silence and consternation she left the drawing-room and slowly walked out the French door into the gardens. Steadfast she roamed aimlessly into the woods surrounding Netherfield.

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In the doorway stood frozen a very pale Georgiana who had witnessed all. She was horrified about Mrs Bennet’s cruel treatment of her own daughter. Trembling and crying in silence she had fled away before Elizabeth could see her. She would not distress her or humiliate her any further for letting her know she that she had heard all.

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Chapter Eighteen

Darcy suspected that something happened that afternoon. Elizabeth had been absent from the house for hours having only returned at dusk and retired to her room at once. She excused herself from attending supper by declaring a severe headache. As soon as he had been informed about this, he immediately rushed to her room worried about her. But she did not talk to him. She was already in bed and seemed to be fast asleep. Or feigned it, he thought, for the tension in her precious face disclosed her misery.

The evening meal had been a very subdued affair. Georgiana was more withdrawn than usual and a certain awkwardness was betrayed by her ever gracious movements. His sisters-in-law would not look up from their plates unless it was absolutely necessary. But the trying Mrs Bennet was as verbose as usual and quite satisfied in her monologue which no one cared to listen to.

Darcy was upset. He tried to ascertain what could have happened to upset the younger ladies as well as his wife. And he would bet that his mother-in-law was at the root of the problem. This will be a very long week, he sighed and closed his eyes as sense of tiredness enveloped him. How are we going to survive this?

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“As you can see dear Lizzy, I have not changed a thing. You shall find Longbourn as you can remember, my dear.” Charlotte faced her friend smiling openly as she held her hands. Mrs. Collins welcomed her friend and Mr Darcy with the liveliest pleasure. Elizabeth, who had dreaded visiting her childhood home, was quite satisfied with coming when she found herself so affectionately received. A shadow fell upon her beautiful eyes as she mentally compared her mother’s reception of her. But she pushed those thoughts away, determined to enjoy Charlotte’s company.

Sitting across the room, Darcy noticed the sullen look that crossed his wife’s face. He frowned as he perceived it. As they left Netherfield towards Longbourn, she told him that nothing had happened to upset her when he gently inquired her about the evening before. It was obvious that something had offended her. And he felt frustrated that she would not confide in him.

Mr Collins sat close to him and chatted amicably to an absent-minded Darcy. Both Elizabeth and Darcy had noticed that his manners seemed unaltered since quitting Hunsford. The only change was the fact that he no longer praised his former patroness, the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh. In fact, he seemed to have found a new recipient for his endless praises in the person of his father-in-law, Sir William Lucas. He had remarked repeatedly that they dined at Lucas Lodge twice a week and that they were hoping to be presented at St James’ by his own introduction.

For Elizabeth, the greatest change was in the person of her dear friend. Charlotte was quite near the end of her confinement. The sight of her rounded belly had startled her. Of course she knew Charlotte was expecting. She had written to her about it months ago. However, the sight of her increasing form troubled her unexpectedly. She had pitied Charlotte for her choice of husband and feared her marriage would bring her unhappiness. However, sitting next to her enlarged belly and observing the radiance glowing on her now chubby face, Elizabeth understood that she was happy. She was almost beautiful… she was almost… a mother, she thought bitterly. She immediately chastised herself for the conflicting emotions that disturbed her. She was happy for Charlotte but her own disappoint was still too fresh in her mind. How is William faring? , she wondered. Is he being reminded that I failed to carry his child? Is he upset? She glanced at him and saw the scowl on his face. He was upset and it increased her frustration.

“Lizzy, I have something to show you. I’m certain you will enjoy it.” Charlotte told her as she stood up slowly and gestured to her to follow her. They excused themselves from the gentlemen and headed upstairs. As Elizabeth recognized she was taking her to Longbourn’s old nursery, she grew nervous.

“Remember the nursery where you all grew up, my dear friend? It has been the only room I dared to change.” She smiled timidly as she opened the door.

Elizabeth forced herself to smile, trying desperately to conceal the emotions that menaced to overwhelm her.

“What do you think, Lizzy?” Charlotte inquired somewhat anxiously. “Will you forgive me for changing this room?”

“My dear Charlotte! This is your home now. You may do with it as you like.” She replied promptly.

“I know Lizzy, it is just… I feel…” she breathed in sharply and blurted out, “I know it is ridiculous but I feel badly for being at your father’s house, your family’s home… and the way my husband behaved at the time--”

“It is alright, Charlotte. Do not distress yourself.” She looked into her friend’s tearful eyes and smiled sadly. She reached for her hands and squeezed them affectionately. “Truly, Charlotte, I am not upset. I understand… but you have nothing to be blamed for… We all knew Longbourn was entailed to Mr Collins. To be honest, I had feared coming here… I feared to be too distressed about the loss of my childhood room and haunts. But strangely, I feel I do not belong here anymore… I have now my new home…”

“Pemberley?” Charlotte asked kindly.

“Yes, it is a wonderful home.” She answered smiling softly. “One day you shall come to visit.” She turned to face the room. She gasped as she observed the cheerful alterations performed on the nursery. It had been almost a lifetime ago that she had seen the old dusty room. “Charlotte, it is wonderful! Have you done all this?”

Charlotte beamed openly. “Yes, I have done almost everything myself. It has given me much pleasure preparing for the little one’s arrival.”

The room was cheerfully furnished and decorated. The morning sun brightened the yellow wallpaper and the colourful curtains and rugs. In the middle of the room, on a large table, were piles of crisp white linens and delicate clothing. Elizabeth approached the table and picked up a small cream-coloured gown. It was made of knitted wool with silky ribbons on the front. It was so soft, so delicate, so tiny…

“That was the first I’ve made for the babe” Charlotte said proudly as she tenderly caressed her protruding belly.

Elizabeth looked up at her friend and could no longer bear it. Holding in her hands the delicate baby gown was just too much… it broke her heart. The misery of the previous day, the memory of Lady Catherine’s hateful words, the look on her husband’s face… She crumpled on the floor sobbing uncontrollably.

Alarmed, Charlotte quickly summoned a servant and asked for Mr Darcy’s immediate assistance. She tried to help her friend but felt utterly powerless. She glanced up quickly at the door as she heard Darcy’s quick footsteps. His countenance betrayed his deep concern as well as his unwavering devotion for his wife. He knelt beside her crumpled form and tenderly drew her into his arms. Elizabeth’s sobbing did not seem to quiet down but she held on fiercely Darcy’s neck as her arms instinctively embraced him. Sensing the couple’s need for intimacy, Charlotte quit the room dragging Mr Collins with her who was standing frozen at the doorway.

Darcy held Elizabeth’s trembling body tightly as he caressed her back and whispered soothing words, attempting to calm her. She felt her body melt into her husband’s in a very reassuring manner. She gradually calmed down although her tears did not come to an end.

She felt so embarrassed for her emotional display that she urged to apologize to her husband. “I’m so sorry, William… I’m so sorry…”

“Oh, Elizabeth… Please tell me what has upset you, my love.” he looked into her watery eyes questioningly as he stroked gently her cheek. “Has someone been unkind to you?”

She nodded negatively in response and nuzzled her face into her husband’s neck. The spicy scent and the warmth radiated by his body comforted her. She whispered to him that all she wanted was for him to take her away.

“We’ll leave immediately for Netherfield, then. Mrs Collins will underst--”

“No!” she cried interrupting him. “I don’t want to stay there…”

“Will you tell me what is the matter, dearest? You are obviously upset and it grieves me deeply to see you as thus.” He gazed at her worriedly trying to understand her misery.

“Not now, William… Please?” she pleaded desperately as she tightened her arms around his neck and buried her face into his chest.

He whispered his acceptance of her wishes and kissed her forehead tenderly. He scooped Elizabeth into his arms and carried her downstairs. At the sight of the Collins’s worried countenances he apologized for their need to leave as Elizabeth was indisposed. As they waited for the carriage, Darcy assured Mrs Collins that she would hear from her friend very soon and told her that it was nothing serious. He did not want to upset her further as she was so close to the end of her confinement. Elizabeth sensed this and, raising her face from Darcy’s shoulder, quietly assured her friend that she was merely indisposed and promised to send her a note before quitting Netherfield.

As they left Longbourn, Elizabeth made a mental note to fully explain herself in her next letter to Charlotte. It would not do to distress her friend over her pitiful behaviour. Turning to her husband she sought his embrace desperately which he willingly offered.

< < < < <> > > > >

The Darcys left Netherfield on the pretext of urgent business in London. As they were only expected at Brighton in four days, they would have to spend that time at the town house. Mrs Bennet wailed and wailed about the loss of dear Mr and Mrs Darcy and Miss Darcy too! However, her son-in-law was adamant about their departure and so they left right after lunch.

Darcy was acutely intrigued about what could have possibly disturbed Elizabeth to the point of collapsing into tears. They would not be able to converse on their way to London as Georgiana was present. But he suspected his sister knew something about what happened the day before. So he took advantage of it as soon as Elizabeth fell asleep in his arms.

“Georgie, tell me what happened yesterday.” He pleaded seriously. She hesitated and he saw it. “I know Elizabeth is upset about her mother, so tell me what you know.”

Georgiana slowly told him the horrible exchange between Mrs Bennet and Elizabeth that she had witnessed the day before. She added as well that she was very worried about her sister’s welfare and she did not wish her brother to be excessively offended and angry at his mother-in-law.

Darcy mumbled ferociously as he rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. The anger he felt flashed in his dark eyes as he tried to control his emotions. He now understood Elizabeth’s demeanour. She was still suffering deeply over the unfortunate miscarriage. Her mother’s words and certainly Lady Catherine’s were tormenting her acutely. The episode at Longbourn was the peak of her distress. He suspected that the sight of Charlotte increasing as well as the nursery set up for the child triggered off her unstable emotions.

“What can I do, Lizzy?” he whispered softly as he nuzzled her hair. He contemplated his sleeping wife and realized that they needed to talk seriously about the loss of their child. She had to overcome this. “Please be well, my love… Please…” Overcome by his emotions, Darcy dozed off lulled by the soft breathing and the warmth of his beloved wife.

Chapters 19-21

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