I haven’t really put any comments before the chapters on my blog but I will on this one. Things get very angsty and seem hopeless. Hang on.
March 15, 1837
Darcy left his study in search of his family. There were matters to arrange before they journeyed to London for the Season. Now that their eldest daughter had married, they should not need to spend so long a time in Town. Will did not need them and Ben would be busy with Cambridge much of the time. Their younger daughter, Betsy, would not be coming out until next year.
“Now, practice like this,” Elizabeth said, and laughter ensued.
“Did you really have to do this, Ellie?” Darcy heard Betsy ask her cousin as he stood outside the door.
Jane and some of her daughters were visiting. The Bingleys had moved to an estate only thirty miles from Pemberley within a year of their marriage. Darcy smiled as he knew the joy the cousins found in each other.
“No, silly, watch again,” Ellie said with oohs and ahhs following. “You had better learn fast for you only have a few weeks.”
Darcy opened the door with a scowl on his face. The occupants of the room immediately froze, clearly caught in the act. “Betsy will not be presented at court until next year.”
Jane quickly looked between husband and wife and stood. “My dears, let us take a walk after spending all morning in here with these dusty garments.” She curtsied to Darcy. “Come, you too, Betsy.”
Darcy did not watch them leave as his eyes remained locked with Elizabeth’s. Hearing the door close, he raised a brow.
“We have discussed this,” he folded his arms across his chest. “You know I want her to wait. Anne did not enter Society until she was nearly nineteen.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “They have very different dispositions and Anne’s birthday is in the summer. It was either enter at seventeen or wait until nearly nineteen.”
“Georgiana chose the same.”
“Again, you are not considering the difference in their personalities,” Elizabeth said and began shaking out the old court dress she had unpacked to practice curtseys with.
“She loves it too much,” Darcy said. “She loves frivolity and London.”
“That is not a crime,” Elizabeth sighed.
Darcy closed his eyes. After all these years, he still had not explained about his mother. He saw that same liveliness in Betsy. Between her beauty and her fortune, she would capture the eye of many suitors and probably make an impulsive choice. In her blood were the errors of a grandmother and two aunts.
“She will be eighteen next week,” Elizabeth said. “You cannot keep her a child forever. If we do not allow her these freedoms, she will take them anyway.”
“Why will you not bow to me in this, Elizabeth?” Darcy asked and took a step forward. “I had thought you, at least, respected me.”
“What do you mean?” she asked and lifted her chin defiantly. “Do not turn this around on me. I have been a good wife, but I will not sit by as you attempt to impose your selfish disdain for the feelings of others! Think beyond your arrogance and conceit and see that you may be wrong.”
Darcy stepped backward. Where had such a thing come from? This was the Elizabeth from his Hunsford proposal. Her eyes flashed in the same anger, which he had only seen glimpses of in their marriage. She had thought that of him, had she? All these years while he thought she cared for him, she had been concealing her implacable hate.
Grasping for his anger, just as he had lo those many years ago, he took a step forward. Elizabeth gasped and looked away, but he would not allow it.
“Look at me,” he demanded, and she obeyed. “I know you have never loved me. I know you never could in all these years, but I will not tolerate public mockery. Now, say you will tell Betsy to wait. We must be united in this no matter how much you hate me.”
A sob came from Elizabeth’s mouth, and she pulled a hand up to cover it while doubling over. Darcy stepped forward in concern, but she held her other hand up to keep him away. Straightening, she exhaled, but pain and regret lingered in her eyes.
“I cannot speak of this at present, Fitzwilliam. I am going for a walk.”
Before Darcy could say anything else, she darted from the room.
Believing it just another argument, he returned to his study and did not emerge when Jane and her daughters left. He had assumed Elizabeth returned inside with them. At tea time, she did not join him. Despite a desire to seek her out, he did not move. They did not argue frequently, but when they did, he had learned Elizabeth needed time to overcome her anger. Often, she would not intend to join him, but he would find her and apologise, earning one from her as well. Not this time. No, this time he would remain firm. He was right, and he knew it. She would come to him with her apologies first.
As he attempted to enjoy his tea and biscuits without her by his side for the first time in five and twenty years, he mulled over the services he had done her and her family. Kitty had married a Derbyshire gentleman with a small estate and Mary wed the vicar of Kympton. Only Lydia lived far away, and she visited once or twice a year. He could not stand to see Wickham, but the man had had held true to his contract. In return, Darcy assisted him in his career. Believing it better to have the man employed and in something as rigid as the army than free to make his own fortune, Darcy secured Wickham a position as adjutant to a general. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet often visited Pemberley before they passed.
Was it too much to ask that she do one thing for him? Just allow him one more year with his little girl. Scowling at the thought which proved her point, he returned to his desk. After another hour or two, his work was completed, and he rang for the butler to take the stack of letters. Half went in the mail and the other half to the land steward.
“Begging your pardon, sir,” young Reynolds, who had taken over for his father a few years before, said, “but Mrs. Darcy has not returned from her walk, and the sun will set soon.”
Darcy’s eyes slid to the clock. She had been gone six hours! It was no secret she was their favourite and no secret she was an exemplary mistress. Despite her humble origins, she managed the estate with more grace, generosity and good sense than the ladies in most of London’s oldest families. Mrs. Bennet had taught her to be an excellent hostess, and Mr. Bennet taught her insight and wisdom. Darcy knew that now, but learning to value her relations came too late in their marriage to make a difference. Elizabeth remained forever sensitive over their positions in life.
Belatedly, he realised that she must have been hurt when he insisted Betsy not come out. She must have thought he believed her as inept as her own mother was on the subject. However, it was his mother he had worried about. Shaking his head, he realised the long overdue conversation with Elizabeth could be put off no longer. He stood, pulling on his coat and forming an apology in his mind.
“I will find her. If I do not return in an hour, send others,” Darcy said as he exited the house.
After an hour, dread filled his heart. It was unlike Elizabeth to stay out after dark. He was just beginning to convince himself that she must have returned a different route when he heard a gardener calling for Mrs. Darcy and the gleam of a lantern. He jogged over.
Hearing that she had not come to the house felt like a knife in his heart. “I have not yet checked this path. Over here,” he motioned to the gardener, and they walked for several minutes before making out a figure of something in the road.
Darcy inhaled sharply as he considered it too big to be a sheep or deer. The gardener did likewise but said nothing.
“I will go,” Darcy said and held out his hand for the lantern.
A cloud rolled by, bathing the path in moonlight and Darcy screamed, then ran.
A woman’s lifeless figure laid before him. He reached her in seconds and set the lantern down.
“Lizzy, Elizabeth, where are you hurt?”
He touched her shoulder, and her head rolled. Lifeless eyes stared up at him.
“Oh God!” Darcy sobbed and scooped her into his arms. “No, anything but this. No!”
He pressed his ear to her chest, hoping to hear a beat or feel respiration. Instead, he felt the stickiness where her blood had trickled down her head from a gash.
Tears flew from his eyes as an anguished sob roared from his throat. “Lizzy, wake up, love. Just wake up,” he cried over and over again rocking her as he clutched her tightly.
“Sir,” the gardener placed a hand on his shoulder, causing Darcy to jump and return from something near insanity.
Turning his head, he saw others slowly approach with their lanterns at their side and hats covering their chest.
“May I?” Jack, the strongest footman asked and held out his arms.
“No!” Darcy yelled and held Elizabeth closer. “No, I will take her.”
“Sir, it is some distance,” Jack said.
“She will be returned to her—” Darcy paused as his voice broke, “her home, to her bed, by me and me alone.”
He managed to stand without letting go of his precious cargo. He and the entourage walked slowly, there was no hurry to rush her into the house or seek medical attention. She was well past that. From time to time, others asked to share his load, but he refused. His arms felt no pain. His entire being was numb.
As he laid Elizabeth on her bed, he fleetingly registered Betsy screaming from the doorway where others worked to hold her back. A good man, a good father, would have strength to offer his daughter in such a situation. He was neither. He was selfish and a bastard. And while Betsy had need of him and Elizabeth could no longer draw comfort from his attention, he refused to leave her bedside. It gave him comfort.
In the morning, the housekeeper ordered him from his wife’s chamber. Jack and another footman, forcibly removed him and delivered him into the hands of his valet who shoved wine mixed with laudanum into his hands. Against his will, he slept. Charging to Elizabeth’s room, relief flooded him when her bed was empty. She lived! It had been naught but a nightmare. But no, items were covered in white linen, protected from dust until he could bear the thought of discarding them.
Never, he vowed.
He crumpled to the ground, sitting in her doorway and wept like a child. Tears he had suppressed since he was removed from his mother at the age of eight sprang forward. What had life given him but grief? Unloved by the man he called father, abandoned by the real one, rejected by the woman he had built his life with, they had all seen him for what he was. Nothing. A fraud. Not worth existing.
If he had never been born everyone’s life would have been better. Lady Anne might have learned to love the country or George Darcy to abide the city. The elder brother Darcy never knew would have lived. Georgiana would never have nearly eloped with Wickham—a fact that cost her everything. Although it remained a secret, she never trusted another man and remained unwed. She established her own home in Town. Elizabeth’s life would have been infinitely better. She would have lived.
There had been excessive amounts of rain that washed the road away some, leaving the occasional unexpected rock. Had she been walking she would have seen them, but Darcy surmised she must have been running. She clearly tripped over one rock and as she fell, struck her head on another larger one. He could not forget her lifeless eyes. Her mesmerizing eyes that always held so much emotion, all the light snuffed out. He had done this. He had driven her to vexation, pushed her to need the exercise in what she must have already viewed as more a prison sentence than a life worth living. Had she felt pain? Had she suffered?
He was confident it was the last time he would feel anything again. As the day wore on, he was proven wrong. Servants came to him asking about funeral arrangements. Betsy pleaded with him to eat and sleep. Jane and Bingley arrived to take over decisions. Elizabeth’s other sisters and their families filled the house. Still, he remained to stare at her empty bed.
The day of the funeral, he was guided to a bath and groomed. He looked the perfect gentleman, with new mourning arm band, but in his heart he knew the truth. He was a murderer. The day he married Elizabeth he sealed her fate. Nay, the day he had kissed her.
And what did he expect? He took the name Darcy and acted like lord of the manor. In truth, he was probably nothing more than the son of a footman who might have had questionable paternity himself. Jack grew up in Newgate, where his father had been sentenced before he was even born. All the years Darcy had hated Wickham when he had done far worse.
Brought to Elizabeth’s grave, he remained rooted in front of it. The sun blinded him so he could not make out the words. What would be said? That her husband drove her to her death? That his arrogance and false conceit ruined her?
“I am sorry I was never the man you deserved,” Darcy said.
His throat aching after days of unused and parched from lack of hydration. He welcomed the sting. Would that it was a noose around his throat as he deserved.
The sun shifted, and Darcy was reminded of a day when he was still a young man and admiring Elizabeth walking in the grove at Rosings. Perhaps now she was at peace as she had been that day.
His name was called, and before turning away, he cast one long glance at the marker as he was uncertain he could ever look upon again and read it:
Beloved wife and mother.