It was a particularly clear day as Fitzwilliam Darcy walked along the isolated country lane with his sister. It was a little warmer there than in Derbyshire, enough so that an hour or two out of doors was not unpleasant. They had made a habit of walking out every day, as the midwife had advised that it would ease Georgiana’s labor when the time came. When she was feeling well enough, Anne would join them; on those days they took shorter walks and kept close to the village. She did her best to accompany them as often as she could, for she had made it her mission to facilitate a reconciliation between the siblings, and feared they would make little progress on their own without someone determined to help them on.
These daily walks had long been Georgiana’s favorite part of her daily routine, for she did little else but read and spend a few hours a day in her sitting room with Mrs. Annesley. There she would work on some little piece of embroidery, or perhaps paint a watercolor of the countryside. She had completed a dozen different views of the coastline and enough handkerchiefs to last a lifetime, when her brother and his wife surprised her with their arrival, and any hostility she had felt over the long months of her confinement gave way to her tremendous relief at the welcome break in her monotony. The cottage Darcy had let for her, though comfortable and well-appointed enough for a lady of her station, was at a remote distance from the village, and the solitude had become oppressive.
As it was the finest day yet in the fortnight since Darcy and Anne had come into Cheshire, the two siblings ventured further than they previously had, enjoying the sunshine in an easy silence. They had achieved a comfortable sort of accord, though Darcy knew they were still a long way from the affection that had once existed between them, before Ramsgate.
A deeper understanding of her solitude and the limitations of her daily life had elicited no small measure of sympathy on his part. He was also pleased to find that the better part of her anger had been spent, and she was no longer inclined to rage at him as she’d done in the autumn. She had even sardonically observed one day that she had come to see the irony of her situation, for she had once blamed her behavior at Ramsgate on her boredom and dissatisfaction with her quiet life at Pemberley, and yet here she was, led by her own folly to an even quieter and more remote existence. Though Darcy found little humor in her situation, it pleased him to see her spirits were no longer so depressed, and that she had developed a measure of acceptance of her situation. It was a step closer toward harmony between them again.
A bend in the road led them away from the tree-lined pastures, toward an open clearing along the cliff side, overlooking the sea. Georgiana stopped and tentatively placed her tiny hand on Darcy’s arm. She looked up at him, her eyes pleadingly searching his. “I want to thank you for choosing such a beautiful place for me here, brother. I know Anne has told you of my loneliness and misery, but on days such as this, I find myself very much at peace. Especially now that you and Anne are come.”
Believing her to be in earnest, Darcy smiled at his sister. “I’m glad to hear it. I would not have you unhappy.”
“I know that, now. I cannot deny that I was rather wretched when first I came here. I have felt lonely at times, despite dear Mrs. Annesley. But when I feel frightened and alone, I realize that I am not alone at all.” She stroked her protuberant belly thoughtfully. “I have my dear girl here, growing strong inside of me, and I am content. I know I shall never be a mother to her, not truly, but I am happy that I shall still have her in my life at all. I know I have you to thank for that. You have sacrificed so much to make it possible. I feel so much at times – Mrs. Annesley tells me it is because of my condition that I am so overcome with emotion. I have felt everything a person can feel, sometimes all at once. I have been angry and jealous and I have even sometimes still longed for… him. But I am past all that now, I believe. I would wish things to be better between us, to be as they have always been.” She closed her eyes and sighed as if releasing a heavy burden, and her grip on his arm tightened.
As he looked back at his sister, Darcy was overcome with emotion. In the fortnight he had been at Frodsham, he had not yet accustomed himself to seeing her so altered. The sight of her so heavy with child had discomfited him at first, as had the notion that she was no longer a child herself, but a woman grown. But in this moment, she was simply his sister, and he was overcome with the awareness of her need for his love. He took her hand in his and squeezed it tightly. “I believed you hated me, and worse yet, that I deserved it. I failed you, and I despaired of you ever forgiving me.”
“Brother, no. It was I who failed you.”
“Enough, we shall not quarrel for a greater share of the blame. This discord between us must be done. You are my sister, and you have my love – you always shall. So shall your child, I promise with all my heart.”
Georgia responded with the most genuine smile he had seen upon her face in many months, and squeezed his hand before placing it on her stomach. Darcy flinched; his instinct was to recoil, but his sister held his hand in place, and a moment later he was rewarded with a strange thumping sensation under his palm. His heart stirred and he broke into delighted laughter, feeling for the first time that this situation was not entirely miserable. For many long and dark months Georgiana’s condition had been merely a problem to be dealt with, a scandal to be concealed, but now the gravity truly struck him. It was so much more. An entirely new human life was on the verge of coming into being. A child that he would raise as his own, that he was sworn to love as his own, and in that moment he understood more of his own heart that he ever thought possible.
A happy chuckle escaped his lips as he looked down at his sister. “The child – you said your dear girl – do you think…?”
“I cannot know for sure, of course,” she replied with an impish smile, and motioned for them to continue on their walk. “Mrs. Annesley declares that she is absolutely certain it is a girl, and has even predicted she will have all her mother’s beauty.”
“I am glad she has proven a faithful companion to you.”
“She has indeed, brother. She is just the sort of companion suited for me, and I very much wish for her to be right about this. I want the child to be a girl, more than I can tell you. If I am ever able to marry someday, I should want nothing but sons, for I think for a woman’s part in this world is cruel and difficult. But for your sake, I would rather give you a daughter than a son. I cannot bear the thought of his child inheriting Pemberley. I know how much it would pain you, and I should feel wrong about it for all my days. You deserve to pass Pemberley on to your own natural son someday, if Anne should ever – that is….” Georgianna stopped, flustered by her own unspoken faux pas.
Though there was much in her words to discomfit him, Darcy said nothing, turning away and looking out across the water. He was pained by Georgiana’s grim view of womanhood and the experiences which led her to it, yet touched by her concern for Pemberley, which bespoke a modicum of remorse for her actions that she had never before expressed. The matter of the child’s inheritance he had also given no little consideration, and must deliberate further still. As to Anne’s ever bearing him a son, he had little hope in that regard, but perhaps if Georgiana did marry, Pemberley might be left to one of her younger sons.
They walked on in silence for some time as Darcy searched for a safer topic to introduce. At length Georgiana said, “Oh my, I just realized… today is Thursday – I should have a letter from Richard!”
Darcy had been surprised to find Richard such a faithful correspondent to Georgiana, though it pleased him that their cousin had known what comfort it would give her. “Whatever can Richard have to say for himself? I am sure he is very dull indeed.”
Georgiana laughed. “No indeed, brother, you know it is not so. I had hoped he would come to see us, for it would be so lovely to be all together here. But I do not know if he can get away. Now that he is Viscount, he is always going someplace or another in town. But at least he writes to me of many interesting things that happen to him. In fact, he told me he saw you in London after Christmas, and that he forced you out into society. Was it very terrible?”
Darcy thought back to that night at the theatre. “Excruciating.”
Georgiana laughed again. “I daresay I should not enjoy it very much, either, but it seems that Richard is settling in well to his new role. I feel sorry for him though, for it seems Miss Bingley is always appearing wherever he goes. He finds it amusing, I think, but I know it irritates Rebecca.”
Darcy cringed, hoping Richard had not let his brash younger sister in on their secret. “She has written you as well?”
“She believes the public story, that I am traveling with friends,” Georgiana said, sensing Darcy’s hesitation. “She does not write me directly. Richard sometimes includes notes from her when he sends his letters. I think it amusing to read two such varying accounts of the same balls and parties, for even though they are very similar, they often are at odds, though cheerfully so. Bye the bye, I hear Rebecca is rather vexed with your friend, Mr. Bingley.”
Here Darcy raised an eyebrow in curiosity. Feisty as she was by nature, Rebecca had seemed as genial as ever toward Bingley at the theatre.
When Darcy said nothing, Georgiana continued, “Richard has written that Mr. Bingley is soon to be married – is it true? He says Rebecca has taken an eager interest in Mr. Bingley’s lady. They both like her a great deal, but Rebecca is afraid that Mr. Bingley’s sister will frighten her away.”
Elizabeth. He had tried to push her from his mind these past weeks, and had very nearly succeeded. His heart wrenched at the thought of Miss Bingley tormenting her, just as it did at the thought of her becoming Charles’ wife.
“I hope it is not so,” Georgiana said, comfortable enough now that she needed little encouragement from her brother to continue on. “I hope Miss Bingley does not frighten her away, for she sounds like a most remarkable woman, if our cousins are to be believed. I should very much like to meet the future Mrs. Bingley, when this is all over.”
Darcy’s heart, his stomach, his brain – all seemed to somersault inside of him. He did not want to know, and yet he was compelled to ask. “What do they say of her?”
Georgiana grew animated as she replied, “She sounds absolutely perfect, brother. She is from the country and is staying in Town with her aunt and uncle, who are in trade, but very lovely people, Rebecca says. She is clever and kind and plays the pianoforte quite well. She is fond of reading and walking, which have been my sole occupations these many months, so I daresay we have much in common already. She is always laughing and teases everybody a great deal. And she takes delight in vexing Miss Bingley almost as much as Rebecca does, Richard says, which I should very much wish to see! Oh, I do hope Mr. Bingley marries her, she sounds absolutely wonderful. Really, I wonder that Richard does not pursue her himself, for he needn’t care about fortune, and even said he likes dancing with her above anyone.”
Darcy smiled wistfully as he considered the new pieces of information, reconciling them with his own impressions of the lady. “Come now, Georgiana, it would not do for Cousin Richard to steal Miss Bennet away from Bingley, surely you would not encourage him to do so,” he said half in jest, knowing that in different circumstances he would have been tempted to do so himself.
“Oh, I suppose not – all the more reason he should accept my invitation to come here, instead! But wait, I only told you her name was Elizabeth. Do you know her, brother?
Darcy was startled; he had betrayed himself. “Yes, I met her once in Town,” he admitted.
“Why did you not say so, instead of letting me rattle on?”
Darcy gave a little shrug. Though the topic disconcerted him, he was pleased to see his sister so at ease with him, and allowed her to question him further. “You must tell me of her, brother.”
“You seem to know a great deal, already.”
“Well, what is she like? Is our cousins’ account of her a true likeness? Is she very beautiful? Rebecca said she is, but Rebecca speaks well of everyone she likes, and thinks everyone she dislikes is ill-featured.”
Darcy chuckled at his sister’s canny description of Rebecca’s antics. “She does exaggerate at times, but in this instance she has not. Miss Bennet is lovely.”
“Where did you meet her?”
“At a ball I did not wish to attend.”
“Did you dance with her? Oh, of course you did not – I know you despise it!”
“In fact, I did. I had not meant to dance at all, for I had only gone to spend an hour with Mr. Bingley. I was out of humor and actually refused to stand up with her.”
“You did not!”
“I did, and she gave me quite a dressing down for it.”
“She did not!” Georgiana had begun to dissolve into giggles, and Darcy was moved by her levity to expound on his story somewhat.
“I told her I had no intention of dancing with anybody, and she replied that whether I danced or not, she intended to abuse me to my face, though my refusal to partake of the festivities only made her task easier.”
“Oh my! I cannot imagine anybody ever speaking to you in such a way!”
“Nobody ever has, except perhaps our Fitzwilliam cousins, so you can see why they get on so well.”
‘She must be a fearsome creature, indeed! I suppose there’s little chance of Miss Bingley running her off. That pleases me. I hope they are married soon, and that they can come to Pemberley this summer. I long to meet Mrs. Bingley.”
Darcy attempted to conceal his distress at this notion. Elizabeth Bennet – no, Elizabeth Bingley – at Pemberley. As much as he had tried to overcome his fascination with her, somehow his sister had become just as fixated. He could only hope that she would lose interest; moreover, that he would lose interest.
At last Georgiana allowed the subject to drop, and observed some ominous clouds on the horizon. A storm was rolling in. They decided to head back toward the village so as not to be caught out in the rain, and spoke of safe, inconsequential nothings the rest of the way home.
The mood in the cottage grew tense over the course of the next week, during what the two local servants they employed continued to insist was the worst squall they had seen in a decade. The rain that battered the coast turned into sleet as the temperature dropped little by little each day, frosting over the window panes and obscuring the dreary gray landscape that lay beyond.
With their daily walks suspended, the Darcy siblings grew restless and petulant. The fireplace did little to warm them and the howling of the wind made them irritable. Darcy sighed too loudly, was too often setting his book down only to pick it up again a moment later – he was too often shifting uncomfortably in his seat, which his sister found inexplicably vexing. Georgiana was prone to pacing the room, humming tunelessly and attempting to peer out of the windows for Darcy knew not what; he found it tremendously annoying. Overwrought silence hung heavily over the household, and only the palliative presence of Mrs. Annesley kept them civil.
Anne had taken to her bed on the third day of the storm, and the obvious decline of her health only heightened the anxiety of her cousins. On the fifth day it became necessary to summon the doctor, who flatly refused to leave his house and attend them. The servant returned alone, drenched to the bone, and was spared his employer’s displeasure by Mrs. Annesley, who whisked the boy off to the kitchen to dry himself by the fire. Darcy made the wretched trip to the village himself, vented his ire on the mulish physician and practically dragged him back to the cottage after a deluge of oaths, bribes, and threats had been unleashed. Once there, the patient was attended do, and a grim prognosis was delivered. Anne was now considered to be in grave danger; no recovery was expected.
As their return from the village had been followed immediately by a vicious torrent of hail, the doctor was obliged to stay the night at the Darcy cottage, alternately attending Mrs. Darcy and Georgiana, whose intense anguish over Anne’s condition gave the doctor much cause for concern. Having the two women he cared most for in the world, who were entirely dependent upon him, confined to their beds in such a state was sheer torture for Darcy. He did not sleep that night – the violence of the storm would not have allowed it, at any rate – but took shifts with the doctor and Mrs. Annesley, alternating between sick rooms.
Georgiana remained highly agitated during the physician’s ministrations, despite the two men’s attempts to mollify her. The gale outside continued to worsen, and the thunder and lightning only heightened her distress. She wept in her brother’s arms, confessing her fear of Anne’s death, and even a great deal of fear for herself. She was afraid she would die in childbirth, as their mother had, and Darcy let her expel her despair at the expense of his own peace own mind, for it was a subject he had tried not to think on.
The idea that he might lose them tore at Darcy’s soul. He had already lost both parents, and could not bear another loss. Though he would not have married Anne under normal circumstances, he cared for her in his own way. And as for Georgiana, despite the horrible fallout of her indiscretion in Ramsgate, there was no one he loved more in this world.
He stroked his sister’s hair and held her until her tears were spent, promising her, as well as himself, that she was strong, that she would survive this and bring forth a beautiful, healthy child who would feel all the good fortune of three loving and doting parents. Eventually Georgiana’s exhaustion overtook her, and Darcy left her in the capable hands of Mrs. Annesley, who faithfully watched over her while the doctor took some rest.
The time he spent at Anne’s bedside was quiet, for she was too weakened from coughing to speak much. He got her to take a little warm broth and applied a damp cloth to her forehead, which seemed to give her some relief. In his own sleep-deprived delirium, he took to describing to her his vision for their child’s future. When he told her of Georgiana’s assurance that it was a daughter they were expecting, Anne’s eyes misted with emotion as she smiled her approval at him. She attempted a laugh when he suggested the name Catherine, shaking her head until a cough overtook her.
The amount of blood on her handkerchief as she drew her hand away was almost nauseating to Darcy. Though she tried to smile at him, he could scarcely meet her eye. Her time was very near. He did his best to keep up a reassuring tone of conversation for her sake, but a growing sense of dread was building within him.
Just before dawn, Darcy woke to the sound of the doctor coming to check on Anne. He was chagrined to be caught dozing, Anne’s clammy hand still clasped in his own, but the doctor gave him a sympathetic look and advised him to retire to his own chamber for a short rest. Though her breathing was shallow, Anne was sleeping comfortably; there was nothing Darcy could do now.
Nor was he needed in Georgiana’s room, where Mrs. Annesley remained in devoted vigil over her charge. She greeted Darcy with a polite nod and a pleasant smile, which bespoke a motherly sort of pride over Georgiana’s restful state. Having no wish to interfere or risk waking his sister, who was in great need of sleep, Darcy made a quick retreat to his own room. He sat down heavily on the bed, but did not lie down. His own uneasiness had not subsided, despite the peaceful stillness that had fallen over the house. Though he knew not how long he had dozed at Anne’s bedside – perhaps two or three hours at most – his body craved sleep as much as his mind rejected it. At a time such as this, the idea was insupportable.
As the first rays of morning light poured in through his bedroom window, Darcy realized the storm must have abated at some point during his brief slumber. He gazed out across the landscape. Apart from some puddles and a few felled tree branches, it was much the same as it ever was. Darcy was overcome with a desire to be out of doors, and decided that a morning ride, despite the inevitable mud, was just the thing to clear his mind. He determined to set off at once, so that he might be back before Anne and Georgiana awakened.
An hour’s gallop across the open fields to the south of the cottage had refreshed his spirits somewhat, and Darcy was on the point of returning when another rider appeared in the distance, approaching him with great haste. Another moment revealed it to be Richard Fitzwilliam, who called out a merry greeting upon recognizing his cousin.
Relieved to have finally reached his destination, Richard let out an energetic “Hello there!” He guided his horse over to meet his cousin. “Darcy, I might have guessed I would find you out riding,”
“And yet I had no idea to expect to see you.”
Richard laughed, and was met with a scowl. “A warm welcome, as ever! I am sorry if the surprise is not a pleasant one, but I am Georgiana’s guest, Darcy, so you shall simply have to endure.” He began to sense aught was amiss with his cousin, who usually tolerated his banter with better humor. “Truly, Darce, did Georgie not tell you she bade me come visit in her last letter?”
“I believe she did mention having some hopes in that regard, but nothing certain.”
“I suppose I should have sent word, but I thought it would make a fine surprise. Perhaps it was thoughtless of me, but I have been repaid with my own surprise – imagine my astonishment at making it as far as Whitchurch, only to be forestalled by that blasted storm! I set out at dawn this morning, for after spending two nights there, I could not stand to be stuck at that wretched inn an hour longer.” Richard paused and looked around at the sodden landscape. “You must have been mad to get out of doors as soon as it let up!”
“I craved some occupation, yes.”
Typical Darcy! “Well, shall we ride a bit longer? I believe my fair cousins will thank me if I deliver you back to the house in better humor than you left it. It shall be an even greater surprise than my arrival, and far more welcome, I daresay.” Richard laughed at his own jest, hoping his cousin would make some manner of repartee, but Darcy remained more than usually reticent. Something was wrong.
“I think not. You must be tired from your journey, and I had not meant to be out so long.”
“Ah, yes. The Darcys do not keep town hours. No doubt the ladies will wake any moment, and wonder where the life of the party has gone!”
Darcy’s expression was pained, and Richard began to worry. Generally his cousin preferred to deal with his problems directly. If Darcy did not wish to tell him what was the matter, it must be something too painful to talk about. Given his desire to return to the house, it seemed Darcy did not wish to be long parted from his wife and sister. Though they had both been well enough, given the circumstances, when Georgiana last wrote, more than a week had passed since then.
Since his teasing neither cheered Darcy up, nor provoked him to speak candidly, it was apparently up to Richard to ask the dreaded question. “Well, Darce? Are all my cousins well, or are you going to tell me which one of them you are out here brooding over?”
He had expected Darcy to bristle at his words, but Richard was answered with a long, unsteady sigh. When he finally met Richard’s eyes, his haunted look was deeply unsettling. “It is both of them.”
“Good God, what has happened?”
Darcy filled his cousin in on the events of the past week – Anne’s declining health, Georgiana’s fears, and his own sense of helplessness. Afterward, Richard fell silent, processing all that had transpired. He wished to offer some manner of eloquent reassurance, but he had not the words to convey the depth of his feelings. It was an awful situation, and one he should have foreseen. “William, I don’t know what to say. Perhaps I ought not to have come so unexpectedly. I am sorry if it puts an additional strain on your household.”
“No, I am glad you are here. Georgie has been asking for you, and I believe Anne will be pleased to see you as well. It will be good for us all to be together, one last time. ”
Richard tightened his grip on the reins as they rounded a hill that brought the cottage into sight at last. He met Darcy’s eye, and saw what his cousin did not say. He was frightened, weary of losing any more family, and Richard’s presence there was more than he had dared to hope for. Darcy had always been as dear to him as either of his brothers, perhaps more so. To see the anguish on his cousin’s face tore at his heart, and he worried that he might not be able to handle what he would be walking into when he stepped into that house. But he was here, and they needed him.
They reached the cottage at last, and were dismounting outside the stable at the back, when a shriek pierced the air.
The walls of the drawing room felt as though they were closing in on Darcy as he sank into his usual chair; he stared out the window, his mind reeling. He felt dizzy and short of breath, and tugged wildly at his cravat to loosen it. It would not go and he tore at it, pulling it loose and in distracted frustration casting the starched white linen into the dying fire. He drew in several shaky breaths, trying to calm himself, and repeated the unavoidable truth to himself as if the repetition would make it more real. Anne was gone. Georgiana was in her childbed. Anne was dead. She had been alive when he rode out that morning, and slipped away before he could return. Georgiana found her thus, and her grief and hysteria had sent her into an early labor; the baby was coming. The child of his fiercest enemy, the child his sister could never acknowledge, the child he would claim as his own and raise from this day forward. Alone.
Richard must have come in and out a dozen times, issuing commands and managing the crisis while Darcy fell apart. In a distant corner of his mind, Darcy knew it was all wrong. This was his wife, his sister – he should be facing these things like a man and not coming unraveled. He tried to rouse himself from this stupor, but his despair had riveted him in place. After remaining in such an attitude for he knew not how long, Richard finally stormed into the room and stood in front of him.
“Darcy, are you in there?”
Slowly, Darcy raised his head and met his cousin’s eye. “I hardly know.”
“If I strike you, will you be very angry?”
“What?” Darcy recoiled; Richard did not strike him, but hovered close by. Finally Darcy’s sense of obligation broke through the fog in his mind, and he took another moment to push his despair aside and anchor himself to the present moment. “I…. How is Georgiana?”
“The midwife should be here any minute; the doctor is with her now, and Mrs. Annesley.”
“I should go to her.”
Richard placed a steadying hand on Darcy’s shoulder. “I think not. She did not want me in there. ‘Tis no place for a man. Better to leave her to the women. They will see to her, to everything.”
Darcy sighed. Richard was right; he should not see her in her childbed. “Anne should have been with her for this.”
Richard’s countenance darkened. “I am almost glad Anne was spared this part. It bothered her, you know, that she would never be able to give you a child.”
The weight of Richard’s words hung on Darcy; he had known this, or at least suspected it, but did not know Richard was aware. “She told you this?”
Richard shrugged sadly. “I read between the lines in her letters. She had such high hopes of being a mother to this child, if she lived long enough. It was why she married you, Darcy. At first I thought perhaps she simply wished to escape Rosings, live out the time she had left, free of her mother. Perhaps that was a part of it, but beyond that,” Richard paused, his voice cracking under the emotion he tried to restrain. “Anne knew this was likely the only means for her to ever experience motherhood, and it filled her with hope.”
“I did not know,” Darcy muttered, unable to meet his cousin’s eye. He felt as if the breath had been jarred out of him after such a revelation. Anne had wanted this child. Only since visiting Frodsham and reconciling with his sister had he felt any semblance of joy in the anticipation of this birth, and yet Anne had being looking forward to it all along. She had not just made her peace with the situation, as he had – she embraced it. Had she deliberately concealed her feelings, or had he simply not cared enough to see them? Darcy instantly knew the answer – he had thought only of himself. Bereft of anything else to say, he looked up at Richard with a numb sense of uncertainty. “You and Anne wrote one another?”
Richard smiled ruefully. “Now Darcy, I am not in the habit of exchanging letters with other mens’ wives, but she was my cousin, after all. I write to Georgie, too. Besides, Anne was hardly….” He stopped a moment, his eyes shifting before finishing lamely, “Hardly a routine correspondent.”
Darcy felt all the truth of what his cousin had meant to say. She was hardly your wife. It was the truth. She had possessed hopes and dreams he had known nothing of; he had never troubled himself to discover them. Feeling like the worst kind of blackguard, Darcy covered his face with his hands, tugging at his cheeks with a heavy exhale. Her body still lay upstairs, alone and forgotten in the crisis, growing cold in the bed he had never shared with her. She would need to be taken home, given more care in death than he had offered her in all the months of their marriage. He would see to it, when he could sort his mind out, but now, he needed to go to her, to beg forgiveness.
Richard watched Darcy disappear silently down the hallway. When he did not turn toward Georgiana’s door, Richard knew what his cousin was about, and resolved to give him the time he needed. He had truly not meant to cause the poor man any more pain, but that was Darcy; he would seek it out anyway, and punish himself accordingly.
The midwife arrived shortly afterward and was shown to Georgiana’s room. Richard winced as the sounds of Georgian’s screams echoed down the hall, even after the door was closed in his face. He waited, rooted in place, reminding himself that this was not a battlefield, those feminine screams had nothing to do with the horrors of war. Soon enough the doctor emerged, having briefed the midwife on their patient, and he gestured for them to return to the parlor.
Richard perched on the edge of his seat. “How is she?”
The doctor sat down, removed his glasses, and wiped them clean on his shirt sleeve. “Terrified,” he said flatly.
Richard jumped to his feet, but the doctor shook his head with indifference. “Do not fear, everything is proceeding in the usual manner. Her distress is perfectly natural. It will keep her alert.” There was another drawn out scream, but the doctor didn’t appear to notice.
“Her mother died in childbirth. Her brother already lost his wife this day.”
The doctor had the grace to look mildly concerned. “I am sorry for that. I did what I could for the poor woman, but her condition was already quite advanced. Whoever advised her that the seaside held any benefits for a consumptive constitution has gravely misled your family. I ought to have counseled her immediate removal from this place, but by the time I was brought here – coerced by that other fellow – well, it was just too late. I tried to make her comfortable in the end, and I believe she was. As to the girl – and here I will give you all the benefit of the doubt and presume that is your wife – she is stronger than she realizes, and doing well for one so young and diminutive.”
Richard clenched his fists, and then forced himself to unclench them. Throttling the doctor would accomplish very little, beyond immediate satisfaction, and apparently Darcy had already given him the business. Good. There was another scream, or rather a loud, escalating groan that sounded very much like an oath, and it was all Richard could do to remain in his seat. He wanted to kick the obtuse physician out the window, and then track down George Wickham and slice the lousy cur in half. Instead, he took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “How much longer?”
For a moment the doctor did not seem inclined to answer. Finally, he said, “I cannot predict that, sir. Her labor may be over in a few hours, or extend into the night. Every woman is different, and only time will tell. The midwife is capable enough – she has delivered very baby in this village for two generations, and I dare say she knows what she is about.” At this, he rose to his feet, his fatigue showing. He gave Richard a curt nod. “That being said, I believe my presence here is no longer necessary, and I have long wished to be home. The midwife will see to your wife. If it pleases you, I’ve a girl who can come and attend you, perhaps a proper meal is just the thing. Molly will see to your requirements, and I will add her services to my fee. I shall be back on the morrow to collect her and check on the babe, and we shall settle the bill.”
Richard responded with a simple nod of his head, glaring out the window as the doctor departed. The sounds of Georgiana’s labor continued, and he willed himself to ignore every protective instinct and stay where he was, just as he’d advised Darcy to do. Besides, there were plenty of other matters that required his attention, and his tactical mind must be put to better use.
Darcy returned to the parlor in better composure than he’d left it, and had even taken a moment to obtain a fresh cravat. His child was being born, and he would not greet him (or her) as a savage. His talk with Anne, though one-sided, had been productive and illuminating; he felt strangely rejuvenated. He was ready to face this child with all the joyful anticipation that Anne had felt it necessary to hide secretly in her own heart.
Richard was at the desk in the corner, writing furiously. He bit his lip whenever he was in such a state of deep concentration, a habit Darcy found strangely endearing, and utterly in keeping with Richard’s other youthful qualities. At such a time, this singular bit of familiarity was a powerful steady force.
“Good, you’re back. I mean, how are you?” Somehow Richard managed to give him a look of focused concern, without ceasing his rapid scribbling. Perhaps an odd trait, his military discipline still very much a part of him.
“I have collected my thoughts, and I am ready to be of some use. What must I do?”
Richard gave an enthusiastic nod, almost smiling. “Yes, I too must have some occupation, or I shall run mad. As it happens, there is a great deal to be done. I have been composing a list. First, we shall eat something, or we shall quickly grow quite useless. The doctor is sending over some extra help for the kitchen, I’ve sent the lad there to the village to find us a couple of sturdy riders, for we will soon have several missives to be posted very quickly.”
The idea of dining drifted through Darcy’s mind but did not stick, though the writing of letters was another matter. “Aunt Catherine.”
“Lord, no. She would descend upon Pemberley in righteous indignation the moment we return, and I presume you have no wish for such an event to take place. Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted? I had rather not bring down her wrath on your poor staff, when her own are so accustomed to it already. We will journey to Kent and deliver the news in person. It is no more than she deserves. She is an awful dragon, but still a mother. And Rosings belongs to you now. There will be much to discuss.”
Darcy’s eyes went wide as he processed this. “Yes, of course. I had not thought of it.”
“Your thoughts were directled as they should be, Cousin. This is all so much. But you have a master tactician at your service, and I shall see to it all.” Here he set down his pen and looked earnestly at Darcy. “They are my cousins, too, and so are you. I’ve no wish to unman myself, but… I care for you, Darcy. You are as a brother to me, and I am at your disposal for all that you require. I am no longer a soldier to be begging leave, I am at my own command, and I have no intention of returning to London until I am satisfied that you have everything in hand.”
Feeling himself in some danger of shedding a tear, Darcy simply nodded and turned toward the window. “You mentioned dispatching some letters – if not to Lady Catherine, then whom?”
Richard stood, blowing a heavy breath over the paper in his hands to dry the ink, before passing it to Darcy.
Decease of Anne Darcy. Birth of Richard Lewis Darcy/Julia Elizabeth Darcy.
Dispatch to Matlock house, advise Father to arrive Kent 7 March.
Dispatch to Pemberley, Reynolds to hire wet-nurse, prepare for mourning
Dispatch to Overton Court, Shrewsbury, Lady Eleanor
Departure at dawn with child, arrival Pemberley by nightfall. G to remain with Mrs. A , recovery
Anticipated receipt of letter at Overton Court
Anne Darcy laid to rest, Pemberley Chapel
Arrival of Lady Eleanor at Pemberley.
Anticipated receipt of letter at Matlock House
Departure for Kent, dawn
Arrival Kent. Lady Catherine.
Darcy read Richard’s list twice over and gave a noncommittal grunt. Ever the military man, Richard had thought of everything. For some reason, this irritated Darcy tremendously. “Very well calculated, Cousin. How quickly you have reduced these dire circumstances to a cold, rigid schedule. You have even named my child, how very comprehensive. And perhaps you would care to explain how your grandmother enters into it?”
Richard grimaced at Darcy’s hostile outburst. “I am ready to hear your plan, which thus far has composed of tidying your attire and brooding out of windows. Essentially, your entire character, in summation.”
Intending to glower severely at his cousin, Darcy instead found himself bursting into unrestrained laughter, the type of which he had never before experienced. It was ridiculous and wild, and he gave way to it at length.
Richard looked on in astonishment, clearly fearing Darcy had gone mad. “You are stupid,” he said after a moment, cracking a bewildered smile.
Darcy nodded his assent, his laughter spent. “I hardly know what came over me – I apologize. It is well thought out, a prudent course of action. Lady Eleanor has always been fond of Georgie and I, though we are not her kin. She would do well to look after the babe while we are at Rosings. I think Georgie will be happy to have her there when she returns, in our absence. She will not be pleased with the separation.”
“No, she will not, but she would be even less pleased if Lady Catherine were to decide to come to Pemberley, demanding access to her grandchild, and asking Georgie too many personal questions. It is better we go there, without the babe. And Darcy, you must be prepared for her insistence upon raising that child at Rosings.”
“Mark my word, Darcy, I know how she thinks. She will demand it of you straight away, and if you allow it, Georgiana will never forgive you.”
“I would never forgive myself. Anne agreed to a loveless marriage simply to escape such a mother.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Darcy regretted them. It was a callous thing to say, and guilt surged inside of him anew. He had not loved Anne, not as a wife. Had she lived, perhaps her affection for the child might have brought them closer. Perhaps, perhaps. Darcy cringed, and turned back to the window.
“Brooding. Or I truly shall hit you.”
Though he wished to make some equally insolent reply, Darcy could only sigh. He turned his gaze back to his cousin. “I trust the names are open to some negotiation? I had thought to give Georgiana a say in the matter.”
“Of course. She would like that. I merely presumed you were aware of Anne’s wishes.”
“Oh. Yes, I’m certain Georgiana will wish to take that in to account.”
“Come, come now – I rather think Richard Darcy has a rather gallant ring to it.”
“That I cannot dispute. I would be honored for my child to bear your name, you have been invaluable to me since Ramsgate. Forever, actually.”
“Then it is Julia Elizabeth that you dislike?”
Darcy felt himself tense up. Georgiana would likely find it lovely, and it really was, but to Darcy it felt wrong. “Julia, for our maternal grandmother, is perfectly acceptable, but I dislike the middle name. We will choose another.”
“Of course. I suppose Anne simply wished to break with the tradition of so many Annes and Georges and Catherines. I suggested Elizabeth to her in one of my letters, and she liked it very well.”
“You suggested it?”
“I made the acquaintance of an Elizabeth recently, and liked her very well. I suppose I thought the name would convey lively wit and high spirits, which I should like to see more of in this family.”
Darcy secretly agreed with his cousin, though he still had little desire to be reminded daily of his inconvenient infatuation with the future Mrs. Bingley. He ought not even be thinking of her now, at such a time. Fortunately, just as Darcy’s silence began to feel uncomfortable, the helper sent from the village bustled in with an abundant meal to sustain the gentlemen, and after they’d partaken the sustenance they had not even realized they’d needed, the tension had sufficiently receded.
Several hours and hastily dispatched letters later, Georgiana delivered a healthy, perhaps even lively baby girl, and took with relish to the name Julia Anne Darcy.