I know it’s taken a long time to get this post up! I’ve been having a lot of joint pain, specifically in my hands and writing, editing, and any computer work has taken longer. However, I’m doing better after starting physical therapy and a new medication. One more chapter and an epilogue left on this story!
Previous Chapters: Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four / Chapter Five / Chapter Six / Chapter Seven / Chapter Eight / Chapter Nine / Chapter Ten / Chapter Eleven / Chapter Twelve / Thirteen / Chapter Fourteen / Chapter Fifteen
The Darcys took their time on their journey to Longbourn for Elizabeth’s comfort. They stopped in London for a few days and dined with the Gardiners. Elizabeth was pleased to see the restoration of the good opinion of her favourite aunt and uncle. Elizabeth could see that Darcy felt embarrassed while greeting Mr. Gardiner. Still, the older gentleman smoothed the way and had nothing critical to say. There were no allusions made to their belated their marriage or its location and cause. Unfortunately, Elizabeth had no hope of a similar greeting at Longbourn.
Mr. Bennet had written to Darcy, scolding him for printing an announcement in the paper. Mrs. Bennet had seen it, cried in disbelief, and questioned him within an inch of his life. When the news was finally confirmed, she let out a screech, which made Bennet’s ears ring, and his hearing had yet to return to normal.
With every passing mile toward her former home, Elizabeth’s unease grew. Her back ached, and her stomach tensed. The midwife in Lambton gave Elizabeth leave to travel, provided she frequently stretch her legs. The journey from London to Meryton usually took half a day, but Elizabeth asked to stop so often that it took the whole day.
They arrived just before the supper hour and were shown into the drawing room. Elizabeth braced herself for the reactions of her family.
“Oh! Mr. Darcy!” Mrs. Bennet stepped forward and curtseyed low. “We saw your coach approach. What a superb vehicle. So grand and surely, the interior is the finest velvet and the most well-sprung seats. Did you order it for your marriage?”
“I did not, ma’am.”
“No matter! I am sure you have four or five carriages, and each must be used so infrequently they are as good as new. Now, if you do order a new one, I must recommend Mr. Fisher in London—he is a very superior cartwright, Mr. Bennet ordered a carriage from him when we married—”
“Mama, will you not ask us to be seated?” Elizabeth interrupted lest her mother never cease speaking long enough to draw breath.
“Oh, of course! Please be seated, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. How well that sounds!” She waved a hand at the settee and then winked at Darcy. “I always knew how it would be since you decried Lizzy at the ball last year. I told Mr. Bennet that I thought you protested her beauty too much.”
Lydia’s mouth dropped. “Mama, you never said such a thing! Why you hated Mr. Darcy as much as Lizzy did.”
“Lydia!” Mary chided.
Elizabeth closed her eyes against a strong wave of pain to her stomach.
“What? Clearly, they like each other quite a lot now,” Lydia said with raised brows and a pointed look at Elizabeth’s mid-section.
Upon entering the room, Elizabeth immediately realized that her father was not present. How she wished he were here to moderate the tongues of her family.
“Actually, I take all the credit for Mr. and Mrs. Darcy’s marriage,” Bingley said. “I did suspect that he had taken a fancy to Miss Elizabeth, and my friend was only too stubborn to admit that he had been wrong in his first impression.” He raised Jane’s hand to his lips. “Not all of us can be so gifted with a clear mind to see a jewel at first sight.”
Bingley’s words had the desired effect, for Mrs. Bennet was thoroughly distracted with the engaged couple. When she began to extoll about the lace in Jane’s new gown that she wore while visiting the neighbours the other day, Elizabeth shot a look to her husband. With his slight nod of agreement, she slipped from the room despite the sharp stab in her back upon standing and the renewed clenching in her stomach.
Taking a deep breath and gathering strength, Elizabeth knocked on the library door. There was no answer, and yet she knew her father must be within the room.
“Papa?” she asked, and only silence answered her.
Telling herself that he had merely fallen asleep, she tried the handle. It did not turn.
“Not yet, Elizabeth,” Mr. Bennet’s voice croaked.
Elizabeth bit back a sob, thoroughly understanding her father. He could not bear to look at her, much less speak with her. She turned in dejection, and her stomach clenched so tightly she had to grab hold of the wall as a warm fluid trickled down her legs.
When she could breathe normally again, she waddled back to the drawing room.
“Mama, I must retire. Which room did you arrange for us?”
Darcy immediately stood and came to her side. She reached for his hand as another pain ripped through her body. She clenched his appendage until her knuckles turned white.
“No!” Mrs. Bennet screamed. “It is too early! You shall lose his child, his heir! Or worse!”
Darcy scooped Elizabeth into his arms, even as the pain eased. He was halfway toward the stairs when Jane caught up with him.
“It is the first door on the left, Mr. Darcy. Charles is sending for the midwife and your physician from London.”
He merely nodded, but Elizabeth could make out the terror in his eyes. They reached Elizabeth’s old bedchamber. Most of Jane’s things were already packed up. She would be sharing a room with Mary while Darcy and Elizabeth visited. Georgiana was given the guest room unless she preferred to stay with Kitty and Lydia.
Once deposited on the bed, Darcy hovered nearby, clearly confused about what to do.
“Allow us to change her and get her comfortable,” Jane said gently to Elizabeth’s husband. Uncertainty flashed across his eyes.
Elizabeth nodded and smiled. “You may wait just outside the door.”
Darcy still seemed torn between staying in the room or obeying their request when Mary arrived at the threshold. Looking at the scene, she tugged Darcy’s arm and led him to the hallway.
“This is all just a fuss,” Elizabeth said as soon as the door was shut. Increased wailing passed by with Kitty and Lydia’s shushing coos and promises of salts and ministration from Mrs. Hill.
Jane put her hands on her hips. “We will let someone with medical training make that decision. We all know how stubborn you are.”
Refusal was on her lips when her stomach tightened again. Elizabeth gasped at the pain.
“How long has this been going on?” Jane demanded.
“Most of the day. I have been so anxious, I thought it was just nerves.”
“Nancy has been sent to find Mrs. Layton,” Mary said. “And Mr. Bingley has gone for Mr. Jones. He thought it best that I write the express to Mr. Darcy’s physician.”
“Take some water,” Jane said as she passed the glass to Elizabeth and began unfastening her gown.
They managed to get her gown, stays, and shift off and a clean nightdress on before another set of pains besieged her. At the sound of her whimper, there was a sharp knock on the door.
“You must allow me in!” Darcy said although the command sounded more like a plead.
“Let him in,” Elizabeth said.
He rushed to her side. “Is it really the baby coming? It is too dangerous—we ought to have stayed in London.”
Elizabeth attempted to give her husband a reassuring smile. “I have no doubt that our child will be as stubborn as the both of us. If he or she does come early, the babe will be a fighter.”
Darcy did not seem to be put at ease by her words, and Elizabeth scarcely believed them either.
“Mary and I will leave you, but you should try to rest,” Jane said. She gave Darcy a reprimanding look before leaving.
“Shall I read to you, love? Perhaps an agricultural report?” His lips tipped up in the smallest smile.
“She said that I should rest, not that I should be tortured.” Elizabeth laughed before pointing at a small bookcase against the opposite wall. “You may choose anything from that case. There are many novels and a few books of poetry and histories as well.”
Darcy returned and began reading while Elizabeth attempted to rest as infrequent pains with varying intensity afflicted her. The pains had exhausted her, and she finally found slumber, wondering what took the midwife and Mr. Jones so long. Sometime later, she awoke. Her belly no longer hurt, and there was no evidence that the doctor or midwife had come. As her sense became more alert, she was aware of hushed voices outside her door.
Dread filled Elizabeth, but her voice could not cry out. She tried to shove off the bed linens, but her limbs were heavy and sluggish. Had she lost strength while she slept? Had something worse happened? She blinked toward the window. It was black outside, and a single candle burned low in the room. It must be very late. Where was the midwife or Mr. Jones? By this time, even the London physician might have arrived.
Firming her resolve, Elizabeth scooted to the edge of the bed and slowly placed her feet on the floor. Carefully, she inched around the edge of the bed, unable to stand upright. Pausing, she hoped she could reach the door in only one step without assistance. Just as she let go of the counterpane, lightning lit up the house’s outside, and thunder crashed. Elizabeth startled before falling to her knees. She heard two stern male voices outside the door.
“You cannot keep me from my daughter!” Mr. Bennet shouted.
“I had thought better of you, sir. You rejected her, and the hurt immediately brought on our current crisis. We ought not to have come.”
“I merely needed a bit more time—”
“And now it might be too late to reconcile,” Darcy said.
Lacking the strength to stand, Elizabeth remained kneeling. There was no need to pray or ask for more forgiveness or direction. She had already confessed her sin and asked for forgiveness from her Heavenly Father. However, with her earthly father, she had refused to concede her wrongdoing.
A moment later, Darcy entered the room with a sigh and gently shut the door. When he saw her on the floor, he rushed to her side.
“Elizabeth, are you injured? What were you doing out of bed?”
“I am well. He helped her to stand and tried to scoop her up, but she resisted. “I can walk. The pains are gone, I am only fatigued.”
Despite furrowing his brow in confusion, he did not gainsay her. Wrapping an arm around her waist so she could lean on him, they slowly made their way to her side of the bed. Darcy waited until Elizabeth was settled before asking why he had found her on the floor again.
“I heard you and my father speaking,” she answered. “When did the storm start?”
“Shortly after you fell asleep. Mr. Jones and the midwife were busy but promised to come soon. Of course, the rain has delayed them. The storm is coming from the south, so I presume that Dr. Ingham has encountered it as well.”
Elizabeth blew out a breath. “I am uncertain I need them at all. The baby is not coming. I am sure I was only overtired.”
“Or stressed. We ought not to have come. I did not think your father would treat you thus.”
“Please do not be harsh on him. Will you send for him? I must speak to him.”
“I did not want to allow him in without your permission. Are you sure you wish to see him?”
“Yes. Send him in.”
A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door, and Mr. Bennet entered.”
“Darcy said you were well?”
His voice contained more concern than Elizabeth could recall hearing in any of her illnesses. She rubbed her hands over her belly. “There are no more pains. I believe all I needed was rest.”
“And the baby?”
Elizabeth smiled. “He or she has returned to its usual self of pummelling me from the inside. All is calm now, so I suppose it is sleeping, although I cannot say I am a fan of its current positioning.”
Mr. Bennet’s eyes left her face and glanced at her imbalanced stomach, achievable only if the baby were resting horizontally with its head against her back and its feet protruding near Elizabeth’s navel.
His lips quirked in a smile, and he returned his gaze to her face. “Your mother often said the same while she was expecting you.”
“Ah, so I was trouble even before birth! No wonder she said I always knew how to vex her.”
“You were never any trouble.”
“Until recently, you mean,” she said, glancing down. “You must not blame Mr. Darcy. I could not explain it to you when we last met, but I love him.” Timidly, she met her father’s eyes. “I know I should not have done what I did. You raised me to know better. Not only should I have guarded my virtue, but I allowed pride to cloud my mind and wounded vanity to prejudice me. They clashed in my head with my growing attraction and admiration for him. I realize now that I have loved him for a very long time. I wanted to blame it on anything but myself. Everything could have turned out differently if only I had chosen to be honest with myself.”
Mr. Bennet’s eyes misted, and he reached for Elizabeth’s hand. “You are very much my daughter. Why should you choose the discomfort and self-mortification of honesty that you loved a man against your will when I had taught you to value cleverness and folly?”
“You also taught me to esteem intelligence and to be sensible.” Tears flooded her own eyes.
“A girl crossed in love is allowed to take leave of her good sense.” He wiped a tear from her eyes.
“But I have disappointed you, made you ashamed, and wounded your heart.” Elizabeth shook her head. “How can you ever forgive me?”
Mr. Bennet placed a hand on Elizabeth’s stomach, his eyes widened as the baby kicked. “You have not yet met this child of yours, and yet I believe you already love it.”
“More than anything!” Elizabeth answered vehemently.
“Then you know all there is to it. A parent can forgive any error or violation. That does not mean there are no consequences. I did not enjoy sending you away, it broke my heart, and never did I stop loving you.”
“You did not wish to see me.” Elizabeth’s chin trembled as she said what had troubled her the most.
“That was wrong of me. I was overwhelmed with considering all that had changed since I last saw you. I was not ready to see you as Mrs. Darcy and a mother to be. I still railed in my heart at the injustice of not being able to protect you from your mistake and take away all the hurt you had to face. Will you forgive me for being selfish and thinking only of my feelings and not of my little girl knocking outside my door?”
“Oh, Papa!” Water flooded Elizabeth’s eyes, and she flung her arms around his neck.