Domestic Felicity is a sequel to A Sense of Obligation. I originally had this idea in 2017 or 2018. I’m finally getting around to having some time to work on this one.
We begin about ten years after the marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth in A Sense of Obligation. There have been some highs and lows. Their marriage is currently in a deep low.
Ten years after Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage, life could be…well…better.
They began their marriage on shaky ground. Soon, however, misunderstandings were cleared and our couple were free to live blissfully ever after. And so they did.
Until the night Pemberley caught fire.
It’s been two years, and their Derbyshire home is still uninhabitable. The Darcys now live with various relatives. They suffer from recurrent nightmares by night and self-recriminations by day. Under the strain of life, Darcy and Elizabeth feel more apart than ever. Has their love evaporated or do they only need to nurture its fire?
“Matty! Matthew! Where are you?”
Smoke filled Darcy’s nostrils and choked the air around him. Flames leapt all around him, and sweat poured from his brow, clouding his vision. But, he could not stop. Any moment, the ceiling may collapse on him, but he had to find his son.
“Matthew, where are you?” he yelled over the roar of the blazing fire all around him.
Panic clawed at Darcy, but his mind forced himself to focus. Matthew had not been in the nursery. Darcy remembered his son had left a toy soldier in his study, and he never slept without the toy. The nurse had said that when Matthew had fallen asleep without it, she did not think twice about it. She had no idea where it might be, and Matthew was still asleep when she went to bed. Sometime between then and now, the boy had left his bed.
Darcy dropped to his knees, where the air was fresher. Crawling, he reached his desk. Please let me find him. Please, Lord. My pride has been great, but please do not take my child. Darcy prayed as never before. Pemberley was a vast estate, and if Matthew was not here, the chances of finding him before the fire consumed him were small.
“Matty!” He screamed again.
“Papa?” a scared voice that sounded like it came from under the desk called.
Darcy chocked back a sob. “Matty! I am here just in front of the desk, can you climb out from under there? Are you hurt?”
“No, I am not hurt, but I can’t move. Something is blocking me, and it is so hot!”
Something must have fallen, keeping Matthew trapped. Darcy pushed himself further, barely able to see or breathe. As he crawled, he gave instructions. “Pull your nightshirt up and cover your mouth and nose. You mustn’t breathe in all this smoke.”
“I’m so scared, Papa.”
“Don’t be afraid. I will get us out of here safely, but you must listen to me.” Please, Lord. Let me get us out of here. Darcy thought about his wife, who had to be restrained from racing back into the burning house when she discovered her son had not escaped with the nurse and younger children.
He reached the side of the desk. A hanging tapestry had fallen, and while it was not blocking the entire entrance under the desk, there was no way for Matthew to exit without touching it. It was not yet consumed with fire. One end had just begun to burn, but the fabric had absorbed the heat would start to blaze any second. Darcy grabbed at it, pain searing his hands from the heat as just that second, the flames leapt higher. Uncaring about his raw and exposed flesh, he threw the fabric to the other side and grabbed at the child cowering under the desk. Matthew gripped him tightly, sobs racking his frame.
“Hold tight to me,” Darcy commanded in a croaky voice.
Matthew’s little head nodded, and he clung to his father’s chest like an animal as the older man crawled back through the room. Splinterings from the ceiling were dropping around him. With every movement, he feared the level above would collapse on him. He would fear the floor beneath him would too, but thankfully, there was no cellar beneath this part of the house.
Reaching the great hall, Darcy was able to stand as the smoke was not quite as thick and low. The fire seemed to have started on one side of the house. Gripping his precious cargo, Darcy sprinted through the hall, hearing the crackling sound of flames around him. Just as he reached the door, the floor above gave way, showering him with dust and debris. A board knocked him on the head and scraped down his back, gashing him. Dizzy from the injury and the fresh air now entering his lungs, Darcy’s steps faltered.
“He’s there!” Elizabeth screamed, and he heard her begin to run to him.
On unsteady feet, he lumbered along until she met him a moment later and pulled their son from his arms. Immediately, she collapsed in a heap, hugging the child to her. Darcy fell to his knees in relief. He had never been more terrified; he had never felt more ill.
Elizabeth pulled back after pressing a thousand kisses to Matthew’s face and let out a blood-curdling scream.
“What is it?” Darcy jerked his head to examine his son. He was not breathing. “Matty! Wake up! Wake up!” Darcy shook the boy before looking him over from head to toe. He did not have a scratch on him. “Wake up!” Lord, please let him wake up! Do not take my son! He shook his son again and blew air on his face. “Wake up!”
Darcy shook violently.
“Wake up!” A woman whispered and shook him again. “Wake up!” she chose to yell this time.
Darcy sat up in his bed, drenched with sweat, heart hammering in his chest. The stink of smoke still lingered. “Matty?”
“He is safe.” Elizabeth leaned her head against his arm. “You saved him. You saved him, my love. It is all in the past. He is well now.”
Slowly, Darcy shook his head. Matthew might be well now, but it had been a long road. He had come to, but the doctors said he inhaled too much smoke. He was far weaker than he had been before and might never fully return to the robust health he previously had. He caught colds easily, and they always posed a danger to his lungs.
Darcy balled his hands into fists, feeling the thickness of the scarred flesh and the muscles that now disliked movement and ached too easily. At the moment, he welcomed the pain. Two years had passed since the fire at Pemberley, and he had not forgiven himself for not being able to entirely save his son or prevent the fire at all. He had thought it was arson, but there was never any proof found.
“At least Lady Catherine has gone deaf,” he mumbled, as his pulse returned to a regular rate. “Anne must be tiring of hosting us since she is kept awake half the night by nightmares.”
Elizabeth kissed his brow. “You are not to blame. You cannot help it and suffer more from them than any of the rest of us. If it bothered her so much, she could place us in a different wing. I have never heard her complain or seen any sign of regret or displeasure. She loves the children.”
Darcy mutely nodded.
“Can you try to sleep again?” Elizabeth ran a soothing hand over his head. She gently pulled Darcy back.
He stretched forward his arm, and her head found a place over his chest as she nestled to his side. Soon, her breathing turned steady as she returned to slumber. Darcy, however, remained awake with his eyes stared fixedly at the canopy overhead. He had once thought he was so grand. Now, his family estate had burned nearly entirely to the ground, and he had no money to repair it quickly. In fact, they had needed the income they received from tenants in the other houses, and the London air could kill Matthew. Their only choice for two years had been to stay with relative after relative until their welcome wore out. By definition, he was still a landed gentleman, but Darcy could see the truth where pitying looks did not. He was nearly bankrupt and homeless, trapping his wife in a shell of a marriage and dooming his children as well. He sometimes wondered if it had not been better if he had died in the fire. Pride went before the fall indeed.