Are you ready for things to turn even stranger? Previous chapters:
Chapter One: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Chapter Two & Three: Ding Dong Merrily on High! and We Three Kings
Chapter Four: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Chapter Five: O Little Town of Bethlehem
Chapter Six: Go Tell It on the Mountain
Darcy heard screams of agony and pounded up the stairs. He flung upon the door to the mistress’ chamber. Some maids fussed at him and told him a birthing room was no place for a man, but he gave them his best Master of Pemberley glare and silenced them.
Stepping forward in the room things were suddenly calm as though after a violent storm. By the same pull she had always had on him, Darcy came to Elizabeth’s side. She had a soft bundle nursing at a breast. She looked exhausted but beamed at him.
“He’s perfect, Fitzwilliam,” she said.
Darcy leaned down and gave her a gentle kiss. “You’re perfect.” He trailed a finger softly over his child’s cheek. He eased down on the bed, careful to not jostle the precious cargo.
“I love you,” Elizabeth said as she leaned her head on his shoulder.
“I love — ”
Darcy’s eyes flew open. Dreams of Elizabeth Bennet were no longer rare, and each time he always awoke just before declaring his love. It was as though even his dream-self knew better than to utter the words. Netherfield was silent and still, it felt like early morning before even the servants arose.
Throwing on his dressing gown, Darcy shuffled to the fire and stoked it. He sank into a nearby chair. He could not keep going on like this. He had not slept well in weeks. Dreams now tortured him. In London, thoughts of what might have been for him and Elizabeth haunted him. Now that he foolishly returned to Netherfield, he knew it would only be worse.
When precisely did he return to Netherfield? He had the strange feeling that he had been here for many days. However, that could not be the case. His mind was being tested from lack of sleep.
As he dozed in the chair awaiting a decent hour to begin, the day images danced through his mind. Elizabeth looking grave and fearful, saying Mr. Collins was dead. Why had she looked so upset? Next, they were walking in Longbourn’s garden, and she spoke to him in angry whispers. Another image, so like a memory, flashed of Georgiana resting in the drawing room of Longbourn. Elizabeth fluttered around her, concern marred her face. A scene of Elizabeth playing cards with Wickham while Georgiana revealed the truth of the cad’s behavior to Elizabeth. Her shock was palpable.
Darcy’s conscience tried to reach out and grasp the wisps of images that swirled around him. Each had felt real, as though he had been there instead of the mere fantasies he was accustomed to. What cruel trick was his mind now playing on him?
“Mr. Darcy,” a voice said from next to him, and he startled awake.
His eyes fluttered as he took in the scene. He was in Longbourn’s drawing room, and Miss Mary Bennet had just finished performing. Beside him, Mr. Bennet looked a mixture of amused and offended. Darcy’s befuddled mind could not make sense of his surroundings. Was he dreaming now? Or had he just awoken? What was real and what was false?
Elizabeth approached the bench. When he had first heard her perform, he acknowledged she had no great skill. However, her audience was held captive by her unaffected voice and the lightness of the tunes she played. Her smiles and a saucy sway of her head added to the festive feeling of the evening. Several of the male guests were enamored with the performance, Darcy noticed with chagrin. His cousin, Richard, turned pages for her.
Darcy hardly knew if he was reliving a dream or hallucinating, but Elizabeth’s voice filled his heart with joy. She sounded positively angelic. Logically, he understood her skill could not have improved so much in a few weeks. For the first time, he consciously admitted to himself that he loved her. Love for the woman made the sound of her voice sweeter, the smile on her face brighter, and every other thing about her more beautiful.
Why was he being such a fool? He had returned to Hertfordshire at his cousin and Bingley’s goading. Elizabeth could take her pick of admirers. Would he wait and see if the dreams of their possible future would become nothing more than ashes of regret? What business did echoes of family duty have in the face of such an angel?
For just a moment, it seemed her smile fixed on him and knocked the air out of his lungs. She beamed, and radiance filled her complexion. Darcy found himself sitting a little taller in his chair. Yes, he was firming his resolve. He would put aside his pride. He wouldn’t even mention his reservations. She deserved all of his love.
Her song ended, and behind him, a well-dressed man leaned forward and spoke to Mr. Bennet. “Bennet, she’s an angel!”
“I’ve always thought so, Gardiner,” Mr. Bennet said chuckling. “Do you think so of all of your nieces?”
Darcy’s interest rose. The man’s cultured tones shocked him. This must be Mrs. Bennet’s brother, the one who resided in London and worked in trade. There was nothing vulgar about him! How had Miss Bingley misled him?
Turning a bit in his seat, Darcy addressed the gentlemen. “I do not believe I have the pleasure of your acquaintance. Could you introduce us, Mr. Bennet?”
Darcy hardly knew of the three of them who was the most surprised. Just as Bennet explaining the man’s name and relationship to him, the clock struck seven, and a white light seized Darcy’s field of vision.
He struggled to retain consciousness. Wondering if this was death, he focused on the memories, on the feelings that had passed. His resolve to court Elizabeth. He had a reason to live! He must fight it, he must! The vice around his head squeezed harder, and the pressure became too much to bear. Bells clanged in his ears and then, utter peace.