I have reached the point in my schedule where I can start posting one of my stories twice a week and leave the other one at once a week. Tell me if you have a preference between Mr. Darcy’s Secret Baby and Lady Darcy’s Bluestocking Club!
Well, Darcy is headed to Scotland. Will he finally get to talk to Elizabeth?
The carriage wheel rolled over a large rock, jostling its occupants. Elizabeth winced as her hand fell to her belly. Her back ached, but Mrs. Gardiner had assured her that the baby was safely nestled in her body. Still, there was an instinct to protect her child. Elizabeth often marvelled at it as she had not known she was pregnant until only a few weeks before. Their future was still uncertain, and her past fraught with confusion. Elizabeth focused on the present. No matter what happened with Darcy, her love for their child grew with each day.
Elizabeth watched out the windows as they rolled through the crowded streets of Edinburgh. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner had rented a house on a respectable street. Elizabeth would pose as a war widow if they met with new people. Mr. Bennet and the Gardiners had continued to press Elizabeth about the identity of her child’s father. They insisted that no honourable offer would come. Elizabeth refused to give up hope that Darcy would come to her. She was so adamant that nothing had been decided about where she would raise the child. On that score, Elizabeth had no concerns. She knew that Darcy would, at the very least, see to her and the child’s needs. However, her heart yearned for something more.
At last, they stopped before a modest-sized stone house. It reminded Elizabeth of the Gardiner residence on Gracechurch Street, although smaller as it would not house as many occupants. Mr. Gardiner assisted the ladies from the carriage. They were introduced to the housekeeper, Elizabeth, as their niece, Mrs. Benson. Then, they retired to their chambers to rest and bathe after a week on the road.
Lying on her left side, Elizabeth stared at the wall. Much had been said by Mr. Bennet and the Gardiners about Elizabeth’s fall from grace. She had been reproved daily for her mistakes, and she certainly felt them in her heart. She bore the reprimands with humility. No one had been unkind to her, and she likely deserved far harsher words than she received. However, it had wounded her pride to disappoint those she most loved. Elizabeth hoped that, in time, she could earn back their trust and good opinion.
“I am sorry, little one,” Elizabeth whispered as she rested a hand over her stomach. “You deserve everyone to rejoice at your birth. In time, they will, and, for now, I will have to love you enough for everyone.”
Her stomach fluttered, as it had been doing for several days, but she always believed it was due to nerves. Mrs. Gardiner had told her she would feel the baby move soon; however, it may be challenging to decipher the sensation at first.
“Is that you?” she murmured. “Do you like to hear that you are loved? When your papa comes for us, I know he will love you as well.”
The conversation was interrupted by a quiet knock on the door. Mrs. Gardiner arrived with a tray. “I thought you could use some refreshment before dinner.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said meekly. She moved to a sitting position more slowly than she would have been able to a few weeks before. Between her growing stomach and the discomfort of spending so much time in a carriage, she could no longer move with as much ease.
Mrs. Gardiner spoke as she arranged the tea things. “A letter was awaiting your uncle. He must leave tomorrow.”
“I am sorry, aunt. I know I have ruined all your plans for this holiday, and now he must exhaust himself by leaving before he has had adequate rest.”
Mrs. Gardiner shook her head. “You have nothing to do with what calls him to London. It would have interrupted our holiday no matter where we were. The fatigue would be the same.”
“Even if we had gone to Lambton? We would have had a few days there before my uncle would have had to turn around again.”
“Perhaps,” Mrs. Gardiner acknowledged. “Still, it will do no lasting damage. He never had the time to stay for more than a few days at any rate. However, it does mean we should have a conversation about your possibilities here.”
Elizabeth furrowed her brow.
“Your uncle and I had hoped that he would have to enter Society a little and determine if there were any acquaintances we needed to avoid.”
“That hardly seems necessary. I shall keep to myself. I know I am not fit for Society any longer.”
“You do not understand our intentions. I know it was not explained earlier, but your uncle and I have determined that the best option would be for you to marry.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened, and she gasped.
Mrs. Gardiner set down her teacup and looked Elizabeth straight in the eye. “I would hope we could find a suitable gentleman to whom you could disclose the truth, but if you cannot, then it would be better to marry and beg forgiveness later.”
“I will do nothing of the sort! I will not deceive a man, and I will not marry until I have heard from—” Elizabeth caught herself just in time.
“You have born your uncle and mine’s admonishments very well, except in one regard. You insist on believing that the man who seduced you is honourable enough to offer you marriage. You blindly believe that not only is it possible, but that you could have a happy marriage with him.”
Elizabeth surged to her feet, previous aches and pains forgot. “I am confident my marriage could be happier with him than with a man I do not know who is, undoubtedly, paid to marry me. I have come to this conclusion through intense reflection—not through naïve emotion.”
“I did not come in here to upset you. We have many weeks to arrange matters and for you to come to terms with it, Lizzy.” Mrs. Gardiner stood. “I caution you to reconcile yourself to it. Now, call for Yates when you are ready to dress. The housekeeper said we will dine at six.”
With that, Mrs. Gardiner sailed from the room, leaving Elizabeth with flaming cheeks and a pounding heart. The truth was, no matter what Darcy said or did about their situation, she could marry no one else. She always knew she could not marry without love. Now, she would add that she could not marry another while in love with Mr. Darcy. At the realisation, she felt an unmistakable kick from inside her belly. It appeared her baby agreed.
The next morning, after seeing Mr. Gardiner off, Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner broke their fast in near silence. Matters had remained tense the day before, and Elizabeth was at a loss on how to smooth it over. She had not wanted to give away Darcy’s identity because it was not right that others should think so meanly of him due to her own stupidity and foolishness. However, as Elizabeth chewed on her fifth slice of toast with plum marmalade, the food she now craved morning, noon, and night, she began to think she would have to explain it all to her aunt.
Unexpectedly, they heard a loud knock on the front door. A moment later, the footman arrived in the breakfast room doorway. Elizabeth leapt to her feet at the sight of the guest. Letting out a strangled cry, she clapped her hand over her mouth as Darcy entered, immediately filling the room with his presence. His eyes roamed over Elizabeth, tenderness, and anxiety written on every feature. Without sparing Mrs. Gardiner a glance, he approached Elizabeth and gathered her hands in his.
“Is it true?”
Elizabeth nodded her head, a tear streaking down her cheek. Darcy fell to his knees, pressing his cheek to her stomach as he wrapped his arms around her.
“Yes,” Elizabeth whispered. There were many reasonable and selfless reasons to say no. This would bring shame to his family. However, the selfish side of her won out. She could no longer deny her heart. “Yes, I will marry you.”
“Today.” It was no request.
“I will marry you today.”
They stood together in that manner for a long moment, feeling too much to say more. Finally, Mrs. Gardiner broke the silence. “Lizzy, why did you not tell us it was Mr. Darcy?”
Darcy stood, looking surprised at the sound of Mrs. Gardiner’s voice. “You did not tell them?”
Elizabeth blushed. “I was embarrassed and unsure of what you would desire to do. I did not want anyone to take your choice away.”
“I will always choose you, Elizabeth,” he said before raising her hands to his lips.
“Well, this changes everything,” Mrs. Gardiner said, ignoring the display of affection. “We would not have worried near as much if we had known it was Mr. Darcy. However, there is no need to rush and marry today. We can arrange it with a church here—”
“Forgive me, Mrs. Gardiner, but I have waited long enough to take Elizabeth as my bride. If she is willing, I would rather not wait.”
“I want to be married today. If you like, we can go now—or perhaps after you eat.” Elizabeth surprised herself at her own determination.
Darcy smiled at her. “It is extremely tempting to hie off right this instant, but I have not had breakfast.”
“Lizzy, are you sure this is what you want?”
Elizabeth met her aunt’s eyes. “Yes.”
“Then, I will arrange things with the housekeeper as Mr. Darcy will need a room. I will also send for a carriage. Surely a servant will know who might be willing to conduct a wedding. Such a strange place…”
“I have a residence in Portobello,” Darcy said. “I should like to take Elizabeth there after the wedding and invite you to stay as well.”
“That is very kind of you,” Mrs. Gardiner said. “However, my husband and I have paid for the lease here, and I have settled in. There is no need to uproot my things. Of course, if Lizzy is married, then she does not need me to be her chaperone. I will write to my husband and make arrangements for my journey home.”
“Mr. Gardiner is not here? I had understood from Mr. Bennet he would be here as well.”
“My uncle was called back to London. He left just this morning.”
“I daresay he does not think very highly of me at the moment.”
Mrs. Gardiner gave Darcy a small smile. “There is a very great difference between believing your niece seduced by a wastrel and understanding that an honourable young man might be carried away by his passions. Perhaps if we had never met you, we would be angrier and more prejudiced. However, I can see now why Elizabeth was always adamant that her young man would come for her. Now, if you will excuse me, there is much to do.”
She left the room, leaving Elizabeth alone with Darcy.
“Pray, sit and eat,” Elizabeth said. “We have plenty of toast, and there is some excellent plum marmalade as well. I believe there are sausages and eggs too. Shall I make you a plate?”
“I can see to myself, Elizabeth. You must sit and rest. The last few weeks must have been unbearable for you.” He approached the sideboard.
Elizabeth sat, twisting her hands in her lap. She studied Darcy’s movements. The broad slope of his shoulders, his strong hands. How she had missed him and feared she would never see him again. He sat next to her and began spreading the marmalade on his toast. His eyes fluttered closed at the first bite.
“Plum is my favourite,” he said with a sheepish smile as he noticed Elizabeth watching him.
“Is that shocking?”
“I have not liked it above many others until recently. I…well, I suppose it is the baby’s favourite too.”
Darcy stilled, his eyes meeting hers with a soft glow. He reached for her hand. “I do not know how you feel about the child, but I must tell you that I am thrilled. You will be an excellent mother.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth whispered while blushing. “I know you will be a wonderful father as well. The news came as a shock, but a pleasant one. I have not known about this little one for very long, but I do love our baby very much.”
Darcy’s grip tightened around Elizabeth’s. He gazed into her eyes for a long time, searching for something. She looked right back, hoping to read his heart.
Finally, she broke the silence. “You must finish eating. I should go to my chamber and help with the packing.”
Elizabeth made to leave. When she reached the door, Darcy called out to her.
“Thank you, not only for agreeing to marry me but for defending my honour. You cannot know what that means to me.”
Incapable of speech, Elizabeth merely nodded and left for her room.