I don’t even know what to say about life right now. I’m praying. I’m loving. And I want to disappear into books. Here’s hoping my offering helps you in some way.
Elizabeth came into Longbourn’s breakfast room after her usual walk and, for the first time in at least a fortnight, anticipated the meal that would be set before her. She had never had a fashionable appetite. She remained trim through her long country walks and, she supposed, good genes. Mrs. Bennet still had quite a figure even after five children. However, around the time Elizabeth received her letter from Mrs. Gardiner, her stomach became unsettled. She had told herself it was only nerves…or perhaps a stage of love. Not that she was quite willing to say she was in love with Darcy. Whatever it was, it was beyond infatuation.
She grew tired more easily too, but Elizabeth did not mind that so much. Although, she did not enjoy the bizarre dreams, which now afflicted her. It was a relief to find rest without her thoughts plaguing her as they had done for weeks. There was also little entertainment to be found. The Regiment had gone, and while a few of the area families that had been absent for the winter had returned, Elizabeth had never found much amusement in their company. At Longbourn, life revolved around Mrs. Bennet’s never-ending wedding talk and Lydia continuing to sulk. Elizabeth had been tempted to give up her morning walks, but her stays were growing tight.
Smiling to her family, Elizabeth took a seat before piling up her plate.
“You seem happy,” Kitty said to her right.
“And ravenous,” Lydia said. “Are you sure you ought to eat all that? Your gown looks tight as it is.”
“What?” Mrs. Bennet cried. “Stand and let me see. We cannot afford to buy a whole new wardrobe for you with Jane’s wedding.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and stood, allowing her mother and sisters to inspect her.
Mrs. Bennet shrugged her shoulders. “I only see that your bosom has filled out more. There is nothing wrong with that. You have quite a way to go before your gowns are indecent. It might even help you find a suitor.”
Biting back a retort, that, of course, Mrs. Bennet only cared about that sort of thing, and not about her daughter’s health or comfort, Elizabeth resumed her seat.
“I am pleased your appetite has returned,” Jane said with a smile.
Elizabeth had shared some of her experiences at Rosings with Jane. She had disclosed what she had learned from Darcy about Bingley. Fortunately, he had already confessed as much to Jane. Elizabeth also told her sister about Darcy’s proposal and her confusion about seeing him again. However, she could not divulge all of what happened that evening to her sister. Jane would not condemn her. Elizabeth had no fear of that. No, what made her hold back from telling Jane everything was that to speak it aloud would be to make it real in a way she had yet to experience. Elizabeth had expected that as time continued on, it would be easier to forget about what she had done with Darcy. Instead, the opposite proved true. She had been so overwhelmed and embarrassed at first that she could hardly analyze what had happened or why. Needless to say, moving on and forgetting about it proved harder than she had anticipated.
While Elizabeth ate, her sisters had excused themselves one by one until only Elizabeth and Mrs. Bennet remained at the table.
“Well, finish up,” Mrs. Bennet said as she stood. “Mr. Bingley is to arrive soon. If you did not spend so much time galloping about the countryside, he would not find us still at breakfast at noon.”
“It is not as though you wait on me to eat,” Elizabeth said before taking a final bite.
“No, but it is unseemly for one in the house to eat so late and not be in the drawing room with the rest of us.”
“There. I am finished for now and may join you.”
Elizabeth pushed her chair away, standing just as there was a knock at the front door. She took one step toward the door, just behind her mother, and collapsed.
She came to a second later, the sound of Mrs. Bennet screaming for help and many rushing footsteps echoing in her ears. Jane reached her first.
“Lizzy, goodness! What happened?” She helped Elizabeth to a sitting position.
“I do not know. Suddenly, I felt very dizzy. I had no warning, or I would have returned to my seat.”
“Are you injured?” Jane asked.
“I think only my pride.” Elizabeth blushed as she realized Mr. Bingley had come with all the others.
“Can you stand?” Mr. Bingley asked and held his arm out for her to grasp in support. “There, easy does it. Lean on me.”
Elizabeth allowed herself to lean on his arm. Her head swam again. “I must sit,” she said.
Bingley led her to a chair. Elizabeth leaned her head against a hand, her elbow propped up on the table. It helped a little.
“If you do not think it impertinent of me, I would call for the apothecary.” He turned toward Jane. “You say that she has been fatigued and not as hungry. You had thought it was nerves, but she may be ill. I offer the services of my London physician if needed.”
“How good you are, Mr. Bingley!” Mrs. Bennet cried. “Surely, Lizzy will not need your physician, but we shall send for Mr. Jones at once. Mary, would you?”
“I think you should rest upstairs,” Bingley said in a gentle voice to Elizabeth. “Do you think you can make it if you lean on me?”
Elizabeth nodded a little, and he helped her up once more. Jane was on her other side.
“Kitty, go and ready the bed,” Jane ordered. “Lydia, let Mrs. Hill know that Lizzy is ill. She has no fever, but I think cool clothes will help in any case. Ask for broth and tea to be sent up. Mama, perhaps you can await Mr. Jones?”
Everyone left to do as Jane instructed. Smiling to herself, Elizabeth mused that this was why Jane and Bingley made the perfect couple. They could easily anticipate the needs of others and had enough common sense to direct those around them. They went slowly through the house, but at last, arrived in her chamber. Jane and Kitty stepped forward then, to help Elizabeth to the bed. They also assisted in changing her out of her clothes and into a shift as the maid was busy with her other duties.
“I am sorry that I made so much trouble,” Elizabeth said once she was in bed.
“Nonsense,” Jane soothed her. “You are never ill, and you take such good care of us when we are. It is the least we can do.”
“You had better leave, Jane. Mama will never forgive me if you get sick before the wedding.” Elizabeth attempted to joke. Her instinct was to minimize what had just happened, and yet her family seldom acted in such a fashion. It was evident that they were concerned for her. Perhaps this was more serious than Elizabeth had first thought.
“The wedding is months from now.”
“Exactly. We could have to deal with her lamenting for months about how I had almost ruined your life.” Elizabeth squeezed Jane’s hand. “For my sake, please leave me.”
Jane chuckled and nodded. “Very well, but I shall return when Mr. Jones arrives. Unless you would prefer Mama—”
“Have I not always been your dearest sister?” Elizabeth asked in mock alarm. “What have I done to deserve such a threat.”
“Now, I am not so worried about you, Lizzy, if you can tease and be teased.”
“I am sure this is nothing. Go. Sit with Bingley and give him my profuse thanks for his assistance.”
Jane squeezed Elizabeth’s hand before leaving. Elizabeth slept while awaiting the arrival of the doctor. It had not been a restful slumber. Again, strange images taunted her in dreamland. She was at Rosings, and instead of Lady Catherine presiding over the dinner table, there was an enormous talking crow. He repeated and mocked every word Elizabeth uttered while a donkey brayed loudly in the corner. Mr. Darcy was there, and he demanded they dance. There was no music, but instead, there were fireworks. Then, as Elizabeth followed Darcy to the dance floor, he turned into a giant anchovy, the scent palatable to Elizabeth for the first time in her life. She awoke to a quiet knock on the door.
“Lizzy?” Jane called. “Mr. Jones is here.”
“Yes, please come in,” Elizabeth answered. “I am sorry I had fallen asleep.”
“There is no need to apologise,” Jane said sweetly. “That was exactly what you were supposed to do.”
“Well, now, Miss Lizzy. What seems to be the problem?” Mr. Jones said, pulling a chair over to the bed.
Elizabeth knew from previous experience that he would listen to her complaints before conducting his exam.
“Hmm,” he said thoughtfully when she had explained her experiences. “And this has been going on for several weeks?”
“Yes. The fatigue, loss of appetite, and strange dreams started as mild annoyances but have increased as the weeks have gone on. Today was the first time I ever fainted.”
He frowned. “I shall have to consider what this might mean.”
“Have you never had a patient present with such symptoms?” Elizabeth asked. She had not thought her symptoms were anything very strange. “I am sure all I need is a bit of rest.”
“Oh, I have had many patients with such symptoms. Rest does help them, but the complete recovery takes several months. Even then, they are prone to relapses. However, very few of my maiden patients have these symptoms. Is there nothing else you might tell me?”
Elizabeth felt herself grow cold and clammy. He could not delicately be suggesting what she thought, could he?
“Lizzy, are you well? You have turned terribly pale!” Jane came to her side.
“Perhaps Miss Bennet can fetch you some fresh water or tea?” Mr. Jones said.
Seizing on the opportunity to have a moment of privacy with the doctor, Elizabeth nodded. “Fresh tea would be lovely.”
Jane dutifully left, and Mr. Jones fixed a wisened stare upon Elizabeth.
“Perhaps…perhaps I have what afflicts your married patients, after all,” Elizabeth said in a whisper.
If she had expected the apothecary to be shocked, she was disappointed. His face remained impassive. “Was it an assault?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No…no, it was the height of foolishness, but it was my choice.”
“Would you like me to tell your father?”
Elizabeth felt her stomach flip. “Please, allow me. What can you tell me? How is this even possible? I had my courses after…”
“Many a woman has been mistaken. We do not know exactly what happens or why, but some do bleed even after conception. All your symptoms fit. In fact, you seem to have been quite blessed not to be beset by vomiting and extreme nausea. You have been able to keep up your exercise, so your fatigue has not been so extraordinary.”
A thousand thoughts dashed through Elizabeth’s mind. “When?”
“From everything you have said, I would expect around Christmas. That will be a joyous holiday indeed!”
“Is there anything I ought not to do? I am sure the midwife will tell me more, but until I have employed one…”
“Ah,” Mr. Jones said. “Yes, I can see that you would not want to approach Mrs. Bennet about all of this until things are all settled. I would not suggest vigorous activity—no riding, but I believe you always preferred to walk. Other than that, you are free to go about your usual routine. I suggest resting more, your body does need it. You are not one of those fashion plates, so I do not have to tell you not to fuss over your waistline. Nor do I think I need to advise moderation of your wine consumption.”
Jane’s steps were heard in the hall.
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said urgently.
“Congratulations to you and your young man. I look forward to the happy news…and the new arrival,” he whispered.
His implication could not be more explicit. He expected that she would soon be married. It was the only respectable option, of course. Elizabeth had never dreaded the idea of conversation more in her life.
“Ah, Miss Bennet. Well, Miss Elizabeth has my instructions. She is to rest as much as she chooses, eat well, and exercise daily. I am sure we will see her blooming in good health in no time.” Mr. Jones bowed to the ladies. “Good day.”
“What did he say is the problem?” Jane asked as she prepared Elizabeth a cup of tea.
“It was non-descript exhaustion, probably from my recent travels.” That much was true, at least. She quickly consumed the tea. “I would like to rest some more.”
“Of course, dearest.” Jane quietly left.
Instantly, Elizabeth’s hand fell to her stomach. A baby grew inside her. His baby—no, their baby. For the rest of her life, she would have someone else to think about, someone else to put first.
She pondered her choices. They had made something beautiful and pure out of all their misunderstandings and arguments. Did that mean that they could share a life together? It was quite the responsibility to put on an unborn infant. She would have to let Mr. Darcy know, of course. He would undoubtedly offer marriage again. However, she would need time to think about the correct decision.
Time was a concern, but not in the way some would suppose. Anyone who could look at a calendar would know the baby came early, even if they married on the morrow. No, what Elizabeth resolved to do now, was to take the time and make a deliberate decision. Hasty impulses had led to this moment, and if she continued to do so, they could forever impact the life of her child. He or she deserved the best life she could give. Now, Elizabeth needed only to ascertain if that required her to be Mrs. Darcy or not.