A Phantom Courtship

 

phantom courtship 7
(Only a promo cover)

I began writing this in 2016 for an anthology with Jenni James but we decided to make that set about fairy tales. We’ve decided to put another Paranormal Regency duet out this coming February.

 

Blurb: Lily Shapcote used to long for adventure. After the death of her mother, she only wishes for life to return to the way it used to be. Ignored by her family, her thoughts take a fanciful turn. Meeting new neighbors gives her everything she’s yearned for: acceptance, affection, and adventure. But what if it isn’t real? Will she be enticed to stay in a fake world or will she return to reality?

Chapter One

Thunder cracked overhead, jolting Lily from her sleep. Pushing her arms up, she stood from the rain-slickened ground and dashed wildly to the nearest tree for shelter. Drops continued to filter through the leaves, pelting her like angry tears but she did not feel them. Her eyes were riveted on the headstone she had just laid beside. A cry came from her lips when she saw the tombstone cracked down the middle. A round of thunder so loud it shook the earth and seemed to be laughing at Lily’s fright. How was it that lightning could strike so near her without any ill effects?

By the same token, she wondered what it would feel like to feel that alive. To feel a fire spark in her body and run through her veins would be more than she felt in her whole life, especially in the last few weeks following her mother’s death. And if she did not survive the strike, might that not be for the better? What was there worth living for at this point? The rain lessened, and Lily’s frantic heartbeat calmed. At last, she left her refuge for the dirty lane and her family’s parsonage. As her boots sunk into the damp earth, she noted the headstone that bore her mother’s name along with her dates of birth and death was split asunder much like her heart.

“I’m home,” she called upon entering and tossing her russet brown bonnet that had seen better days, on the table. She knew perfectly well her words were heard by no one. No housekeeper or maid greeted her. No smiling mother or sisters sat in the drawing room awaiting her return. Her father seldom stirred from his library. A dark cloud of mourning hovered over the Shapcote home, and Lily doubted it would ever lift.

Not caring about the puddles left in her wake, she drudged upstairs to change into dry clothes. The familiar room brought no comfort. Weeks ago, Lily had fallen ill with putrid fever. The doctor recommended the room be cleared and left dark and bare. Now, heavy drapes covered the window, blocking all sunlight. All furniture had been removed save a table and chair next to the bed. Mrs. Shapcote had sat in the chair countless hours nursing her middle daughter before succumbing to the illness herself. After being insensible with fever for a week, Lily recovered. As her eyes fluttered open, she witnessed her mother faint from sickness. During her rapid decline, Lily was not allowed to visit her mother. Afterwards, Lily couldn’t bear to change a thing about the room. Potion bottles littered the table with weeks worth of dust collecting around them. The book Mrs. Shapcote had been reading aloud still sat on the chair. Lily reverently trailed her hands over the worn cover on her way to the closet.

Knowing her sisters were busy and not wanting to bother a maid, she awkwardly dressed in a fresh black bombazine gown. It was time to switch to lavender, but Lily could not bear the thought. Her grief of her mother’s passing — and because of her — would never fade like the colors of mourning suggested. Already, it seemed her family adapted to the loss of their wife and mother. They moved forward at an alarming pace. Lily frowned in the mirror as laughter from the drawing room below drifted to her ears. When had she last laughed? Would her voice even make the noise?

“Maybe Helen will have a piece of humorous gossip,” she muttered to herself as she patted down the folds of her gown.

Helen had been her best friend since their infancy, but they could not be less alike. The older they got, the more different they became. Helen now bemoaned her lack of suitors and sat amongst the spinsters at dances. At twenty, she already believed her youth was over. Helen’s plain looks and relative poverty did not help matters, neither did the lack of eligible gentlemen in the area, but Lily would never give up hope for a love match. Even if her sister downstairs encouraged a gentleman twice her age, of weak constitution and disgusting breath.

“I wish you were here, Mama,” Lily said and stared intently at the mirror. Sometimes, when she concentrated hard enough, she could nearly swear her mother would appear to counsel her. Not just in the mirror. Lily knew that would be a mere flight of fancy. But she sometimes thought she heard her mother’s voice or felt her caress. Then, in another moment it would seem to be only the wind.

Deciding she could not spend all day upstairs, Lily left her chamber. When she returned below the water was cleaned up as if by ghostly who worked only out of sight. Sighing, Lily entered the drawing room.

Her younger sister, Daisy, sat near the window with a book open on her lap but of no interest. Daisy looked longingly at the table of hat fashioning supplies and then the clock. She had one hour of reading left before she could begin recreational pursuits. Ever since she ran away from school a month ago, she had been allowed to remain at home but with stringent rules. The carefree fifteen year old apparently chaffed at the restrictions.

Violet, the eldest sister, sat near the other window. Her suitor, Edward Norton, the local squire, and patron of Mr. Shapcote, sat at her side. Neither even looked in Lily’s direction as they continued their conversation in near privacy.

Lily picked up embroidery she had begun before her mother’s death. They had planned it together. Upon completion, it would read “The sun always rises,” with a sun rising over mountains covered in mist and a garden of sunflowers tilting their heads up in the sun’s direction. Lily did not complete the text before falling ill. She had determined to work in the garden instead, but thus far only had grass and green stalks.

Does the sun really always rise, Mama? she thought to herself. As though in answer, a small ray broke through the clouds and shined in the room, dancing off a crystal dish and sending fragments of light through the chamber.

 

*****

 

A half an hour later, Mr. Norton took his leave, Violet fiddled with a fan, Daisy declared herself too tired to read and Lily had barely ten stitches completed. She rolled her eyes at herself. Since her illness, her concentration had been broken. Was it any wonder her family mostly ignored her if she sat staring at her embroidery without minutes on end? She was fortunate they did not consider her touched in the head and send her away.

Daisy gathered hat supplies and plopped next to Lily. “I think working on this bonnet would be just the thing to soothe my head, but we have nothing but old ribbon.”

“What do you need new ribbons for?”

“Just because I am the youngest and not out does not mean I have to exist solely on your hand me downs! Catherine Landing is two years younger than me and more fashionable! She’s a child!”

“So are you,” Lily said. At times the five years between them in ages seemed enormous.

Violet sighed. “I suppose it is unfair to expect you to never want anything new and fresh. ‘Tis part of growing up. Lily, remember when you hated wearing my old things?”

Lily only nodded her head. It was a common enough complaint from her. Her mother always had some piece of advice or idea on how to make something old new again. Since Mrs. Shapcote’s death, Daisy had used this excuse several times to gain new items, and Lily feared in danger of becoming thoroughly spoilt.

“I would walk with you to town,” said Violet, “but it is too muddy. I must look refined to the community or Mr. Norton will lose interest.”

“Lily, will you come? I know you always like to speak with Helen.”

“Do you forget she is the doctor’s daughter and not the milliner’s daughter?” Lily asked.

“Of course not! It is on the way.”

Lily narrowed her eyes at her silly younger sister. “And then you will be left alone at the milliner’s?”

“What?” Daisy put on her best innocent look.

“Ask Father,” Violet offered.

Daisy dashed away and came back triumphantly, just as Lily expected. “He said I could go if I am alone for only ten minutes.”

Lily raised a brow. “And ten minutes of time with my friend is supposed to be sufficient bribery?”

“It is better than nothing,” Violet said.

I am not the one who is restricted to the house. I could go and spend as long as I like,” Lily said.

“Mama would have understood,” Daisy muttered before crumpling to tears, which Lily suspected were put on.

“Then I will go,” Violet said while leveling an angry glare at Lily. “And it shall be your fault if Mr. Norton throws me over and I am an old maid forever.”

“I’ll go,” Lily said while rising to her feet. No one had even asked if she wanted to go into town today, after all, she had been stuck in a rainstorm just this morning, but putting aside their feelings for the other is what sisters did, wasn’t it?

Wetherham was a small town, just barely deserving the nomenclature and that only because there were so few towns in Northern Cumbria. Still, the residents were proud of their butcher, milliner, blacksmith, and doctor. In recent years, to the delight of young ladies, a bookshop and circulating library had been added, while the tavern and sport remained of primary interest to the menfolk — of which there were not many and even less that were young and solvent.  A short walk from the Shapcote residence, Lily and Daisy reached their destination in a matter of minutes.

“I shan’t be longer than ten minutes! I swear!” Daisy said when she left Lily at the door of Dr. Jamison’s. Daisy’s solemn vow reinforced Lily’s belief that her sister had little intention of shopping. One could never promise to be so precise when looking for fripperies. She shrugged her shoulders, though. Nothing dangerous or exciting ever happened in their corner of the world. Daisy could hardly meet disaster.

The Jamison housekeeper showed Lily to the sitting room, and she greeted her friend affectionately.

“It seems an age since I last saw you,” Helen Jamison said while scrutinizing Lily’s face.

“Forgive me. I have been desired quiet more than usual.”

“Understandable, of course. I only hope you are taking care of yourself. Father still worries.”

“I am entirely recovered,” Lily said. The references to her past illness always served as a reminder that her mother had not survived. She cleared her throat. “You must tell me about the ball last week.”

Although she had entered half mourning, Lily still preferred to avoid public gatherings. Violet had gone, but Lily had not the patience to hear her sister’s gushing over the attention paid to her. Helen was a far more sensible companion…even if that did not always suit Lily.

The tea things arrived just as Helen launched into a description of Mr. Norton’s puffy face turning red with the exertion of dancing.

“I can’t imagine what my sister sees in him!” Lily cried. What once would have made her laugh, only made her concerned for her sister.

“I daresay she sees a home of her own and two thousand a year.”

“You make her sound like a fortune hunter! If she were, would she settle for such a paltry sum?”

“Two thousand is quite a lot more than your father or mine earn,” Helen mused before sipping her tea.

“But Vi has never cared about such things before. Daisy would be more likely to marry for money.”

“Perhaps recent events have changed Violet’s feelings.”

Lily made no reply. Not only had she caused her mother’s death, but now she was the reason for her sister desiring to marry the first sweaty, aging man who showed her any interest? A knock at the door interrupted her musings and looking out the window showed it was Daisy.

“It is time for me to go. I fear if I stay longer Daisy will invent some excuse to leave us. I’m exasperated at Papa as it is.”

“I am sorry my company was such a burden,” Helen said with a smirk.

“Oh! You know what I mean!”

“I do,” Helen nodded. “Still, I think it is good for you to get out more and talk with others. I know your sisters are given to ignore you. If I were stronger, I would visit you.”

“And have me give up my walk?” Lily feigned shock. “I thought you cared about my health!” By unspoken agreement, the two never mentioned Helen’s limp. Indeed, it was easy to forget about it entirely.

“Then you’ll promise to visit more? Like you used to?” Helen asked with no small amount of anxiety in her voice.

Unable to bear the thought of concerning her friend, Lily agreed. Even if she felt her visits were more for the sake of their past friendship than any current feeling. Helen had very few friends and was mostly homebound during the day when her father needed the gig. They no longer shared the secret yearnings of their heart, and their interests seemed too varied as Helen had long ago given up reading sentimental romances. While Lily was a loyal friend, she could not help the selfish wish of desiring a friend who might understand her a bit better. Seeing her sister waiting for her on the doorstep with glowing eyes and flushed cheeks made the feeling even stronger.

“What have you been up to?” Lily eyed Daisy with suspicion as they walked toward their home.

“Nothing so bad.”

“Daisy,” Lily warned.

“Alright,” she said and pulled two apples out of her reticule and handed one to Daisy. “The reddest I could find!”

Lily looked at the shiny fruit in her palm. “These look like the ones Mr. Alistair grows, but I did not think he came to market on Fridays.”

“He doesn’t!” Daisy grinned.

“Daisy June Shapcote! Do you mean that you went on his land to retrieve them?”

Daisy erupted into laughter. “And climbed a tree and beat James and John Fr to the top as well!”

She skipped off and left Lily rooted in place. Those boys were two or three years younger than Daisy, and she was getting into scrapes with them as though she were a young girl still instead of blossoming into womanhood. Her figure was now curved and rounded in a feminine way. Could it be that Lily had one sister who was desperate for the carefree days of lost youth and another that was equally desperate to leave behind the cares of a troubled family? Where did Lily fit in the two extremes? For no matter the extremes, her sisters seemed capable of moving forward with their lives, of embracing change while Lily remained firmly rooted in a longing for the past.

 

*****

 

The following morning dawned no different than the ones in the last several weeks. The sun hid behind clouds with only peeks of it coming out for a few brief moments at a time. Lily had enjoyed enough of William Wordsworth and the Lake Poets to consider it a metaphor for her life. Arriving in the breakfast room at her usual time, she chewed her toast while her sisters chatted around her.

“You’re wearing the blue ribbon again, Daisy? I was going to ask to borrow it. Mr. Norton favors the color and my last pair broke.”

“Well, it is my favorite.”

“What of the others you bought yesterday?”

“Yesterday?” The younger girl blinked, confused.

“When you went to the milliner with Lily.”

“Oh… Oh, I decided to not purchase anything. It is better to not make a hasty choice, isn’t it?”

“Hmmm. Yes, frugality is a virtue.”

Lily’s eyebrows raised at Violet’s words. Was she worried about income? Lily had not thought about it before, but Violet was likely now doing the family accounts.

“Was Lily angry?”

“For what?” Daisy said nervously.

“For dragging her to town for no reason.”

“Oh, that. No, she did not seem to be.”

Lily stifled a sigh. When had her family begun to talk about her as though she was not in the room? Pushing back from the table without so much as excusing herself, she left. Uncertain if it might rain again, she changed into her sturdiest boots and bonnets. Seemingly prepared for the day, Lily set out for her usual morning location.

The frequent rains made the distance more cumbersome than usual, but she managed to trek up the hill to the old graveyard. As she approached her mother’s headstone, Lily again wondered how she had been so close to calamity and came out unscathed. She knew better than to tell her family or friends. They seemed to have little interest in what she had to say even more so if it sounded as outrageous as surviving a lightning strike.

After having sat silently and thoughtlessly for an hour or two, Lily departed the cemetery as unnoticed as she came. Darker clouds were beginning to roll in and, determined to not be caught in another downpour, she exerted herself faster than usual. Suddenly she lost her footing and felt her body lurch forward. Flinging her arms out for balance, she had no protection when she careened head first and landed on a sharp rock. A split second after the severe pain and loud buzzing sound came nothing but blessed darkness and silence.

Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Carol- We Wish You a Merry Christmas

christmas carolPrevious sections: Twelve Days of Christmas / Part II

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Pemberley

Ten years later

December 23, 1822

 

“That’s mine,” Natalie cried as she ripped a doll from her younger brother’s hands.

“I was playing with it first!” Charlie retorted and grabbed for the doll.

“But you didn’t ask! You will break her.”

“Nat, you can come play with mine,” Felicity, now tall and robust with a healthful complexion, said and offered her own dolls.

“It’s the principle of the thing.” She stomped her foot.

“Charlie, return your sister’s toy,” Jane said patiently.

Her son handed it over and ran off to play with his cousins: David, Ben, Tom, and Jack.

She sighed and shifted her newest daughter on her hip. “Girls, Olivia is going to sit with you.”

She placed the baby, just old enough to sit upright on her own, on the carpet and returned to her seat with Mary and Elizabeth.

“Remember when I said you would have a dozen?” Elizabeth asked as she stirred her tea.

“Bite your tongue.” Jane smiled wearily. “Just over half that amount will do for me, thank you.”

“Admit it,” Elizabeth teased, “you feel like Mama with five daughters underfoot.”

“I certainly understand her more than I ever did.” Jane smiled and sipped her tea. “Although I was not the one who had no compassion for her. It would be much fairer for you to be the mother of five daughters.”

“Oh no,” Elizabeth smirked. “Imagine Fitzwilliam with five girls with Bennet blood!”

“And now Papa spending so much time in the library makes sense,” Mary answered and patted little Rob on the bottom. “At least Richard has an outlet with the fencing club. The older boys ask to visit often.”

“Are there still plans to expand from Manchester to Birmingham?” Jane asked.

“Yes,” Mary laughed. “I apologise if it means you will see less of Charles when it opens.”

Jane smiled. “I do not think I will complain about some separation.”

Considering the eight children she had in ten years, some time apart might be in order.

She turned to Elizabeth. “Will you try for a boy?”

“Well, I have news,” Elizabeth said and smiled as she placed a hand on her midsection. “Obviously we cannot know yet, but there will be a new Darcy baby in the spring. Felicity and Anne would like a brother. Of course, Cate does not care yet.”

The youngest Darcy daughter, named after her great aunt as well as her maternal aunt, toddled over to her sisters and cousins.

“Honestly, though,” Elizabeth said, “Fitzwilliam says he does not care. The estate is not entailed, so he can leave it however he likes.” Of course, if no son came, they would rewrite the will to keep each well-funded while also protecting Pemberley from being sold off.

“What do we have here?” Elizabeth asked as many others entered the room.

The grown men, the boys, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, the Gardiners and their unmarried children, and the trio of unmarried aunts—Georgiana, Kitty, and Lydia—came in.

Darcy kissed Elizabeth’s cheek and sank into a chair. Cate toddled over to him, and he scooped her up to bounce on his knee, making her squeal with laughter.

“We were told to come for a concert,” Richard said.

“How delightful!” Jane beamed and applauded as some of them gathered around a makeshift stage.

“Lydia,” Georgiana called.

Kitty closed the curtains while the children lined up on stage. Georgiana dashed to the pianoforte. Playing a simple melody, she nodded as her nieces and nephews began singing.

“We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”

Elizabeth and the adults applauded the first verse, then were treated to a second.

“Oh, bring us a figgy pudding!” the children cried in tune to the first verse.

Another one followed: “We won’t go until we get some.”

After solemn vows from the adults that they would, indeed, have figgy pudding with dinner, they gave the last verse.

“Good tidings we bring, to you and your kin, good tidings. We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”

As the thundering herd of children clamoured to the dining room, Elizabeth smiled. Since the fateful Christmas ten years before, her heart had been full of love and joy. Each year had brought a truly merry Christmas, and each year brought more happiness.

Darcy had hung back with her and now gathered her in his arms before kissing her deeply.

“What was that for?” Elizabeth asked with a laugh.

“Do you ever wonder if we are still in an alternate reality?”

“If we are,” she said and stroked her husband’s cheek, “then I wish for no other than the one I have right now with you.”

Darcy squeezed her close again. “What if there is a version of me living without you?”

“Impossible, Fitzwilliam, impossible.” She kissed him and poured all her love for him into it. “We were meant to be, whether by Christmas magic or fortunate decisions. We were meant to be.”

“Come on,” Felicity called.

Felicity and Anne ran back to their parents and tugged on their hands. Cate half-walked, half-crawled towards them as well.

“The figgy pudding!” Anne cried.

Darcy and Elizabeth’s eyes met, and laughter filled the room and their hearts before they allowed their children to direct them to the dining-room for a shared birthday celebration and more Christmas festivities.

The End

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Carol-

christmas carol

I joked on a forum these 4 chapters should have the subtitle, “Call the Midwife.” I hope you enjoy!

Previous chapters: Tweleve Days of Christmas

Jingle Bells

Pemberley, Derbyshire

December 23, 1812

 

“Are you certain this is safe for you, Mrs. Darcy? Lord bless me, how well that sounds!” Mrs. Bennet said with just a smidgen of her past excitement.

“I have been going out in a sleigh daily for weeks. Why would it suddenly be unsafe today?” Elizabeth propped a hand on her hip, accentuating her extremely rounded stomach.

“Mother Bennet,” Darcy said with an indulgent smile, “I would not like my wife to feel put out so close to the”—he glanced at his wife’s belly—”holiday.”

“Oh, I quite understand you,” Mrs. Bennet agreed.

“Come, Mrs. Bennet,” her husband said and led her away. “Darcy would not allow anything to harm Lizzy.”

Mrs. Bennet nodded as she watched her second-eldest daughter climb aboard the curricle with her husband. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner boarded the other.

“I have not done this since I was a little girl,” Mrs. Gardiner laughed. The horse stepped forward, and she shrieked in surprise. “Do go slowly.” She gripped her husband’s arm.

Darcy and Gardiner shared a chuckle and then sped off, their wives crying with laughter. Mrs. Bennet watched silently but with an anxiety she had not known for a twelvemonth. Since the strange occurrences of last Christmas, she had been filled with calmness and serenity. Now, looking at the fresh blanket of snow on Pemberley’s fields, she troubled her lower lip and put a hand on the pulse beating hard at her neck.

The snowstorm came fast and hard; not something unusual in the area, she was assured. She took to her bed with a headache, something which often happened when the weather turned. Feeling restored after a night of sleep, she ate breakfast with the others. While she could well-remember the discomfort she felt in the final days of her pregnancies, she could also recall the signs of impending birth. The way Elizabeth caught her breath repeatedly and rubbed her belly could be more than kicks of an active baby. She had fidgeted in her chair, unable to find a comfortable position, and in the end insisted on walking throughout the house. New energy seemed to seize her as she insisted on decorating and greeting guests. She was positively waspish to everyone at the drop of a hat.

For several minutes, all seemed well as the Darcys and the Gardiners raced over the fields. Their laughter and the sleigh bells carried to the others watching from the house. Suddenly, Darcy stopped his carriage. He motioned and called for Mr. Gardiner. After a moment of discussion, Darcy took off again at breakneck speed for the house.

When he pulled up, he jumped out and ran to Elizabeth’s side. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were there a moment later. Elizabeth needed assistance getting out and then crouched low. Recognizing immediately that her daughter had gone into labour, Mrs. Bennet ran into the house.

“Reynolds, ring for your wife,” she commanded as she entered the hall. “Mrs. Darcy has gone into labour. Notify the maids. Send a boy for the midwife.”

“Yes, ma’am!”

By the time he ran off, Darcy was carrying Elizabeth into the house.

“Put me down, Fitzwilliam,” Elizabeth said. “I can walk!”

“I watched you collapse, woman.”

Mrs. Bennet gasped and drew to her daughter’s side.

“Perhaps we ought to leave this to the ladies,” Mr. Bennet said to his son-in-law as he saw his wife and an army of maids filling the corridor.

“You cannot carry me up all the stairs,” Elizabeth pleaded. “You will hurt yourself.”

“Did she really collapse?” Mrs. Bennet hovered nearby.

Elizabeth gave her husband a glare. “I did not.”

“No, she just needed to breathe during a pain,” Mrs. Gardiner said. “We will see to her from here,” she said to Darcy.

“I have called for the maids and the housekeeper, and sent a boy for Mrs. Sandrington,” Mrs. Bennet said.

“You see, everything is well in hand,” Gardiner murmured.

Slowly, Darcy nodded and put his wife down. He held her close and whispered in her ear before giving her a kiss. The scene was surprisingly intimate and touched Mrs. Bennet. She had been so fortunate with the men who loved her daughters.

“We need to get her upstairs before another pain comes,” Mrs. Bennet said gently. “Was it her waters?”

“Aye.” Mrs. Gardiner nodded.

“Go on, Fitzwilliam.” Elizabeth smiled. “All shall be well.”

“I shall run mad,” he said, not moving a muscle.

“You could write to her sisters,” Mrs. Bennet suggested.

“Yes, of course,” he agreed.

“Come along, then.” Mr. Bennet took Darcy by the elbow and pulled him aside.

The ladies went first to Elizabeth’s chamber while the birthing room was prepared. Elizabeth had seemed to be labouring all day, and Mrs. Bennet expected the babe to come fast after her waters broke, but she was proved wrong when the midwife arrived.

“This being her first one, it might be days,” Mrs. Sandrington said.

“Days!” Elizabeth cried, and then a new pain seized her.

“They’re not coming very regular,” Mrs. Bennet agreed.

It was suggested she walk, which Elizabeth eagerly consented to. Mrs. Darcy paced the halls, with her guests taking turns accompanying her.

“I am sorry for all the fuss,” Elizabeth panted. “I feel as though I am failing as a mistress to so fine an estate. Come for Christmas while I neglect you and birth an infant!”

“Hush,” Mrs. Bennet cooed. “You are the best mistress, right now. There is nothing more important than this heir, and there is nowhere we would rather be.”

“Not even with Jane?” Elizabeth asked in a small voice.

Mrs. Bennet blushed, knowing in the past she had caused Elizabeth, and one or two of her other daughters as well, to feel slighted. “I will be with Jane when her time comes. Perhaps it will even be here as they are to arrive on the morrow. I only wish Mary could be here as well.”

“Yes,” Elizabeth grunted and gripped a wall. “Send Fitzwilliam to her.”

“I do not think he would leave you now.”

“You heard Mrs. Sandrington. It could be days. He can be to Manchester and back in less than a day.”

“Lizzy…” Mrs. Bennet hardly knew what to say.

“Tell him I insist,” she huffed as she walked down the corridor. “Tell him that, or I will fetch her myself!”

The fire in her eyes made Mrs. Bennet scurry off to relay the message. At first, he adamantly refused to go.

“Shall we be witness to a showing of marital stubbornness?” Mr. Bennet asked. “Gardiner and I will go.”

Darcy shook his head. “No, we already considered that. She refused to leave the home she built with Richard.” Darcy sighed. “I hate to say it, but I fear I might be the only one to convince her.”

“She was always an obedient girl,” Mr. Bennet said.

“I am sure, but I know she has vowed to Richard that if I came, she would go.”

“Then go now,” Mrs. Bennet urged.

“You are certain Elizabeth shall be well?” Darcy hesitated at the library door.

“I spent twenty hours in labour with her,” Mrs. Bennet chuckled and shook her head. “She is well-attended, and there is nothing for a husband to do but wait.”

Darcy slowly nodded. “If anything should happen, tell her…tell her that I love her,” he whispered, then left.

“Ah, do you remember what it was like with the first one?” Gardiner asked. “Thinking of all the horrible ways it could go wrong?”

Mr. Bennet locked eyes with his wife and gave her a fond smile. “I never stopped worrying.”

Mrs. Bennet returned the smile. It was still rare for him to speak of any tenderness he felt, but learning sign language with Kitty had opened a new world to him. When her brother turned his head for a moment, Mr. Bennet signed “I love you” to her. Tears filled her eyes as she returned the gesture.

“Time for me to return upstairs,” she said. Hearing the pianoforte from the nearby drawing room, she added, “Tell the girls that they will have to continue to wait.”

Mr. Bennet sighed. “Hurry up and wait! That’s all there is to the baby business.”

Mrs. Bennet propped a hand on her hip and shook a finger at him. “I assure you there is much more to it than waiting for the mother!”

Mr. Bennet’s lips twitched.

“Oh, you were teasing!” She shook her head. “How you take delight in tormenting my poor—” She clamped a hand over her mouth. She had not uttered that phrase in nearly a year.

Muttering to herself, she hurried up the stairs to her daughter.

 

 


Away in a Manger

Belmont Hall, Northwich, Cheshire

December 23, 1812

 

“It seems Pemberley will have an heir by the time we arrive,” Charles said as he read Darcy’s quick missive. He and Jane were in the drawing room of their newly purchased estate only thirty miles from Pemberley.

“Oh my!” Jane exclaimed. “I thought she was not due until the New Year. Will the babe be well?”

“Darcy writes of no concerns.”

“We must go now.” Jane stood.

“I do not see why we must rush.” He glanced out the window. “It will be dark before we arrive, and we plan to leave in the morning as it is.”

“What is the difference if we arrive a few hours early then?” Jane said, holding up a finger. “Our items are packed. Please, I wish to be there for Lizzy.”

“Sweetheart, you have been growing so tired lately.” Charles came to her side and kissed her forehead. “The rest will do you good.”

“That will not distract me,” Jane said and shook her head. “I shall sleep on the way, but I know she would do this for me, and you know by now that I am stubborn when sure of my decision.”

Charles sighed, then walked to the bell pull. “Send for the carriage. We will leave tonight. Have Graves and Amanda pack a small valise of our necessary items for the night and morning. They may arrive by wagon as planned on the morrow.”

Jane squealed with happiness and clapped her hands. She pecked Charles on the cheek, dashed up the stairs—as best she could—helped her maid shove items in a bag, and then put on her warmest gown and coat. By the time she descended a quarter of an hour later, Charles and the coach were ready.

“I can say nothing to convince you of the foolishness of this?”

“No, nothing.” Jane shook her head. “I have not seen Lizzy in months. I wished to arrive days ago, but you said that since we live so near, we should not burden them longer than necessary.”

“I thought of your comfort, my dear,” Charles said as he assisted his round wife into the vehicle.

“I know.” Jane sighed. “Forgive me if I have been short-tempered lately.” She patted her belly, which lurched as they moved forward.

“It is nothing like what you bear.” Charles reached for her hand and kissed it. “Rest your head on my shoulder. Hopefully, the rocking sensation will help you sleep.”

Jane stifled a yawn and obeyed. Her husband wrapped a protective arm around her, and before many minutes she quietly snored.

Awaking two hours later as they changed horses, Jane felt discomfort in her back as she stretched. She walked some as they waited, believing her legs needed movement, and refused any refreshment but some wine mixed with water the cook had packed them. When she got to Pemberley, a bath and tea would restore her.

Asking Charles to rub her aching back, she dozed as he whispered loving words to her. She had not missed his lines of worry, but she was confident that she could do this. What was thirty miles of good road?

The last ray of sun was quickly leaving the sky when she awoke and sat bolt upright.

“Darling?” Charles asked.

“How far are we from Pemberley?” Jane asked as she squeezed her eyes against the pain.

Her husband scanned outside his window. “Here is the lodge house now.”

They turned onto a drive surrounded by trees and snow. Jane had little doubt it looked beautiful in the daylight, but she had much more pressing concerns.

“We must hurry,” she winced as her belly tightened.

“Are you well? Should we stop?”

Grunting through the pain, she shook her head. “No, the babe is coming.”

“Come again?”

Jane could not speak as another intense contraction gripped her. She grabbed whatever she could reach—her husband’s hand—and squeezed tight. A scream tore from her lips.

“Janie?” Charles’s voice trembled. “Jane, look at me.”

“I-I-I can’t!” Tears streaked down her face. The pains were nearly constant, and she felt the need to bear down.

“Look at me,” Charles said, in a commanding tone this time.

Pushing her chin to her chest, she glanced at her husband.

“You cannot do this here.”

“I can’t stop!” Jane grunted.

Feeling fluid trickle down her leg, she lifted her skirt to touch it. Red stained her hand.

“You will have to catch him,” Jane said.

“Pardon?”

“Your coat,” she panted and tried to breathe through the sensation of being torn in half. “Wrap him in your coat.”

She was a mix of hysterical and delirious with pain.

“We are pulling up to the house now,” Charles said.

“I cannot get out of this carriage. I cannot move!” Jane pushed her husband over so she could spread her legs. “His head is cominnnnnnng!”

Charles banged on the roof and shouted directions to pull around to the stable. “Just a minute, love. Just hold on.”

Perspiration marred his brow. The carriage stopped at the stable, and Charles yanked Jane forward as he hopped down. Before her toes touched the ground, he scooped her up and raced to a clean stall. The stable hands and his coachmen asked half-formed questions.

“Run to the house and tell them Mrs. Bingley is having the baby! Go!” Charles commanded. Then he called for a groom to fetch the gamekeeper “You have helped with animal births, correct?” he asked when the man arrived.

“Too many to count,” Mr. Statler said. “Some of my own babes, too.” He clapped Charles on the back. “Here,” he said and poured alcohol over Bingley’s hands.

“What’s that for?”

“Keeps it clean, so the mother don’t get sick.”

“Lord, I don’t know if I can do this,” Bingley half-remarked, half-prayed.

“Don’t flatter yourself.” The older man winked. “She does all the hard part.”

“Charles! I can’t wait any longer! I can’t” Jane panted as a forceful contraction brought her upright, and she gripped behind her knees, recalling something her midwife had said.

Screaming through the burning sensation, the animals around them joined in. After a minute of incredible pain, which she worried might last forever, she had a moment of respite.

“I can see his head, Janie!”

Sobs began to wrack her frame. Almost over. She was almost—another wave hit. Charles had his coat ready. Jane prayed her baby would be well. The air was so cold in the stable. Fears for her child made her focus. Get him out, get him safe, she mentally chanted. Four hard pushes later as Charles cheered her on, and she heard the cry of a baby.

“He is here?” Jane asked through tears. They were so numerous that she could barely make out her husband’s outline holding a small bundle.

“A girl, Janie. A girl.” Wonder filled his voice as Statler cut the cord.

Jane sagged in relief. “She is healthy? May I see?”

Charles brought her over and knelt down. “Look how beautiful,” he said and kissed her forehead. “Like her Mama already. Darling, you did so well.” He brushed aside sweat-soaked hair. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Jane whispered and lovingly stroked the cherub’s face.

For a moment, all was still and quiet. Jane could see the stars shining through a crack in the barn ceiling. Her daughter opened her eyes but did not cry. She merely looked at her mother, and love flooded Jane’s heart.

“Jane?” Mrs. Bennet’s voice rang out from the entry.

“In here, Mama,” Jane said.

Rapid footsteps sounded and then a loud gasp. “My heavens!” Mrs. Bennet said in a horrified tone.

“Everything is fine,” Charles said.

Mrs. Bennet nodded and then glanced around the stable. Mr. Statler had given them privacy. “You are fully done, then?”

“I do not know—” a contraction interrupted Jane’s sentence.

“As I thought.” Mrs. Bennet nodded. “Charles, take the baby to the house. Then return with a footman. We must get Jane into bed.” She called for Statler. “Do you have a blanket or the like? The baby must be warmed.”

He nodded, and Charles followed.

“Mama?” Jane asked as her mother knelt beside her.

“Yes, dearest?”

“I don’t understand.”

“It is the after birth,” she said and wiped her daughter’s brow. “You have already done the hard part.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” Jane laughed, and relief filled her. “I thought you were going to say there was another one!”

Mrs. Bennet chuckled as well. “No, that would be quite irregular.”

“How did you do this five times?” Jane said as she pushed.

“It may seem impossible now, but soon you will believe it was all worth it and want another one.”

Jane grunted as the last contraction came to an end. “If you say so. I must say, I am quite put out by Charles. Although he was perfectly wonderful during this, I just do not want him to be so wonderful to me for quite a while!”

Mrs. Bennet laughed again. “That is quite normal.”

“Jane?” His voice came down the corridor.

“Just a moment.” Mrs. Bennet quickly made Jane presentable. “You may come.”

Loading her back in the carriage, she sat curled on her husband’s lap, Mrs. Bennet across from them. They circled back to the house. Charles and a footman carried her to a chamber.

“Where is the baby?” Jane looked around fitfully. Anxiety filled her, although she knew it was irrational.

“Here she is, ma’am.” A maid rushed forward and placed her into Jane’s outstretched arms.

“The midwife needs to exam you and the babe,” Mrs. Bennet said.

“May I see Lizzy?”

“Perhaps in a bit,” Mrs. Bennet answered but did not meet Jane’s eyes. “Do you have a name for her?”

“Natalie,” Jane said and locked eyes with her husband. “Natalie Elizabeth.”

“Precious,” Mrs. Bennet said.

“Will you hold her?” Jane asked when Mrs. Sandrington entered.

Charles left to change and tell the men and young ladies the news. The midwife examined Jane and pronounced her strong and healthy. Jane smiled as she watched her mother walk around the room with her daughter in her arms. They had no bed for Natalie here yet, but Jane surmised that would be no problem as someone would be willing to hold her always. Before falling asleep, she grinned, thinking if that failed, they could always make a bed of hay.

 


Once in David’s Royal City

Manchester

December 23, 1812

 

Mary blinked through exhaustion when she heard the knocker. She heard voices—her maid’s and a man’s—and then steps in the hall.

“Madam, there is a Mr. Darcy here to see you,” the maid spoke quietly.

“Oh,” Mary said and slowly sat upright. Pulling her dressing gown tighter, she nodded for him to be let in.

“Mary—” He stopped short when he took in the bundle in her arms. “When?” He slowly came towards her.

“Two nights ago,” Mary said. “Just after Richard left.”

“You should have come to us,” Darcy whispered. “Is he well? It was early.”

“The midwife said early makes it easier.” Mary shrugged. “He is well. He eats constantly and has healthy lungs.”

“That is good.” He was looking at the child strangely. “And you? You are well?”

“Only tired.” Mary smiled.

Her heart skipped a nervous rhythm. Physically, she was quite well. Mentally, she was shaking herself. She had insisted on staying in the house instead of leaning on the care of her family. What had she been thinking? She could only imagine that pregnancy clouded her judgment. It all seemed entirely clear once the baby was in her arms.

“Why are you here?” she asked, wondering if he noticed the sound of hope in her voice.

“I had come to fetch you. I would have done so tomorrow, but Elizabeth has started, and she wished to have you with her.”

“Oh, dearest Lizzy.”

“Can you travel?”

Mary chewed her bottom lip. She knew there would be no small amount of discomfort, and travel with a newborn would slow their timing.

“Mary?” Richard’s voice boomed from downstairs.

Mary gasped, and Darcy jerked his head. Fluttering a hand, Mary shooed Darcy to the door. “Bring him up here.” Looking down at the baby, she added, “Only quietly!”

Darcy, clearly astonished, left her side. Mary heard muffled voices on the stairs. She could not make out the words, but Richard’s were incredulous. A moment later there were footsteps in the hall, and the door inched open. Richard, looking road-weary and dirty, peeked his head in.

“Is it true?”

Mary smiled. “Come and meet your son.”

A look of awe filled Richard’s face, and he shuffled to her side. “So small,” he said.

The baby made a gurgling sound in his sleep and smiled. “How you must hate me for missing this,” Richard said and kissed her cheek. “I am so thankful you are both well.”

“I do not hate you,” Mary said. “It could not be helped, but why are you here?”

“As I reached Liverpool, word came that there had been a victory on the coast of Spain, and we did not need to go to Falmouth. Words cannot relay my relief. I raced to you as fast as I could.”

“You left two days ago,” Mary said with tears in her eyes. “Why are you only now returning?”

Richard wrapped his arm around her. “I hope you do not mind being poor,” he said and kissed her hair. “I have sold my commission. I will find some other employment and means to care for my family, but I will not leave them.”

Laughter bubbled up from Mary’s throat, and tears streamed down her face.

“You are crying, love,” Richard said.

“Happy tears,” Mary answered. “I’m so delighted.”

“You will not miss my red coat?”

Mary shook her head. “Certainly not!”

A knock sounded on the door, and they bade Darcy enter.

“I hate to intrude,” he murmured, “but Elizabeth…”

“How do you feel?” Richard asked his wife.

“Susie was telling me how her mother was always up and running within days of bearing a child. I think I can survive a carriage ride. If you do not mind the extra delays.”

“Not at all,” Darcy said and scanned the room. “It seems you were half-packed when you had to stop!”

Mary blushed. “I did not want to go, but I also knew that Lizzy would not leave me. I wished to remain stubborn but also not be a burden.”

Darcy chuckled. “These Bennet women and their stubbornness. How will we survive?”

“At least I am adding to the number of males to offset it!”

“A fine, hearty son! My congratulations,” Darcy said. “What do you call him?”

Richard laughed, realising he had not asked. “Well?” He met his wife’s eyes.

“It is as we decided.” Mary smiled. “David Nicholas.”

“Excellent.”

“Darcy, if you help Mary down the stairs, I will throw together a trunk of some of my items. I can always fetch more or have things sent later.”

Darcy nodded. The maid came to carry the baby downstairs, and Mary leaned heavily on Darcy’s arm, but she made the journey without needing to stop due to pain or exhaustion. Happily, David was returned to her waiting arms as Susie quickly packed items for the infant. Within a quarter hour, they were in the Darcy carriage and bound for Pemberley.

 

 


Coventry Carol

Pemberley

December 23, 1812

 

As Pemberley welcomed the newest members of the extended Bennet-Fitzwilliam-Darcy family, Elizabeth slept restlessly. Her eyes fluttered open only when Darcy kissed her forehead.

“Mary?” she asked weakly.

“Settled in a guest chamber with your nephew and Richard.”

“Goodness,” Elizabeth said with far less force than she felt. “Tell me everything.”

So he did. When he finished, she marvelled. “Now, I do not think it is fair that they had such easy deliveries and are now my guests.” She frowned. “I will have to scold them when I recover.”

Darcy kissed her hand. “Nothing too strenuous, my love.”

Elizabeth nodded and rubbed her belly. Her labour had stalled, and she noticed the nervous looks her mother, aunt, and Mrs. Sandrington shared. She still felt contractions, but they no longer came at regular intervals or felt as strong. Despite assurances that this sometimes happened, Elizabeth grew afraid.

“I believe I am jealous,” Elizabeth said, resting her head against Darcy’s shoulder as he sat with her in bed.

“I know,” he said and placed a large hand on her belly. “Soon it will be over.”

“It is not that, although I would welcome it.” She tried to stretch to reach an itch on her foot but was unsuccessful. Thankfully, Darcy understood her desire. “I wanted our baby to be the first you held.”

“I held Georgiana.”

“I mean besides her,” Elizabeth pouted.

Darcy squeezed Elizabeth’s shoulders tight, having finished his task at reaching the itch. “I know, and I did not hold David or Natalie.”

“Truly?”

“Truly.” Darcy smiled. “However, my arms feel very empty despite your being in them. Perhaps our little one desires excitement?”

“What do you mean?”

“Shall I call for the sleigh again?”

Lizzy laughed. “As tempting as that is, I do not think I have the energy to go all the way down the stairs.”

“Did not Mrs. Sandrington say you need to walk?”

“Yes, but my legs feel so heavy, and it just hurts.”

“Come, walk with me,” Darcy said while standing. He held out a hand to her, smiling when she placed hers in it.

“Do you recall what we were doing this time a year ago?” she asked as they circled the halls of Pemberley.

“Which day?” Darcy chuckled.

“Any of them!”

“I didn’t know it at the time,” Darcy said, “but I was searching for you. That is how I knew I loved you.”

“It was?”

“Before Bingley and Richard told me anything, I was having dreams. In every dream, I sought you out. I wanted to look at you, to speak with you. I realised it was the same in our daytime encounters. You were who my eyes first wished to see in every room I entered.”

“Oh, Fitzwilliam,” Elizabeth sighed. “I wish I deserved you. I am so terribly unromantic compared to that!”

“When did you know you loved me?”

“When I thought I lost you forever,” Elizabeth confessed.

“So good things can come out of stressful moments.”

“Indeed.” She rubbed her belly, which had begun to contract since she started walking. This time she would not stop so early.

After several hours, Mrs. Sandrington judged it time for the birthing chair. This time, Darcy would not be removed from the room. Exhausted from an entire day of labour and then hours of walking, Elizabeth nearly fainted during the two hours of pushing. Each time she cried out in pain or that she could not continue, Darcy murmured encouragements in her ear. He rubbed her back, mopped her brow, and focused her breathing. Finally, after a herculean push, Elizabeth felt profound relief. The baby had come, but she heard no crying. Bursting into sobs, she could not manage to put her fears into words.

“Fitzwilliam, he does not cry,” she forced out, gripping his hand fiercely as they both looked over to the midwife, who was cleaning the baby and wrapping it.

“Mama,” Elizabeth sobbed as her mother came closer to Mrs. Sandrington and placed a kiss on the infant’s head. “No, Mama. No, please, no.”

Hysterics consumed her as another contraction came to deliver her placenta. She loudly cried to God for a miracle.

“Quiet,” Mrs. Sandrington soothed as she came over. “Look.” She pointed to the baby’s chest. “She breathes. She lives. A miracle.”

Relief flooded Elizabeth, and tears poured from her anew.

“What do we do?” Darcy asked.

“Pray,” she answered honestly. “A physician might be able to help, but getting good food will help the most. She came just a little too early.”

“Have you seen others like this?”

“A few,” Mrs. Sandrington said. “See how she is yellow? She will need sunlight.”

Darcy nodded as he took the tiny bundle from the midwife. Elizabeth ignored the pain in her body and leaned over to kiss her daughter. “I am sorry,” she sniffed as tears poured down her face again.

“What for?”

“Because…because we do not know if she will live. You deserve a strong heir, a son, and look at what I did.”

“Elizabeth,” Darcy said sternly, “you are exhausted and insensible. She is already my pride and joy. Do not torment yourself like this. I was sickly at birth.”

“You were?” she asked.

“For many years, I was weak. Richard still likes to tease. So did…others.”

Although he had not said the name, Elizabeth knew he meant Wickham. By agreement, they had not uttered his name since the day he boarded the ship. To speak it now at the birth of their child would be an unforgivable travesty.

“What happened?”

Darcy shrugged. “One day, I grew. It was as if all my growing caught up with me all at once. Mother was carrying Georgiana, actually. I was happy she got to see her frail son turn into a healthy boy.”

“And were you ever ill?”

“I seemed to catch every childhood disease and was in bed with colds all winter. I did not go away to school until I was sixteen.” Darcy shrugged. “By then the boys all had their own friends, except Bingley.”

“Why did you never tell me this before?” Elizabeth asked.

“I did not think about it. I am certain I do not know everything about your childhood.”

Elizabeth blushed. She meant to keep it that way.

“I suppose it has been a day of many miracles and blessings,” she said when she had been cleaned up and moved to her chamber.

“Indeed,” Darcy said as he sat on the edge of the bed and stared at his daughter.

Elizabeth looked over at the small crib her baby rested in. She had cried, eventually. Not the loud wail of her cousins, but a sound distinctly her own. Others might call it frail, but to Elizabeth, it was music to her ears.

“We never decided on a name for a girl,” Elizabeth said as she gently stroked her daughter’s soft cheek before scooping her up.

“That is because someone was convinced she was a he,” Darcy chuckled.

“My chances of being correct were just as good as yours.” She gave him a saucy look. “Anne? After your mother?”

“Elizabeth, after hers,” Darcy suggested.

“No, no.” Elizabeth shook her head. “Despite the many shortened forms available. What did you say earlier? You called her your pride and joy.”

“Surely you are not suggesting we name our daughter after my greatest flaw.” Darcy smiled.

Elizabeth smirked, knowing he could follow her train of thought but that he could never resist exchanging barbs with her. “I meant Joy, of course.”

“Joy Darcy,” he tested it out. “It feels too short.”

“You only think that because Fitzwilliam is so long.” Elizabeth yawned halfway through the name.

“Elizabeth is hardly shorter.”

“Yes, but I am called Lizzy and Eliza by many.”

“Felicity?”

A slow smile curved over Elizabeth’s lips. “Felicity Joy Darcy.”

“Perfect,” Darcy said and kissed her forehead. “I love you so very much,” he said, recalling a time when he would not even confess it in a dream.

“Oh, Fitzwilliam.” Elizabeth stroked his cheek. “I love you so very much, too. I am so thankful for the Christmas miracle which brought us together and for the one I now hold.”

“Now, get some sleep,” Darcy said as he took the baby. “I will watch over my ladies.”

Elizabeth fell asleep with a smile on her face. When she awoke to the hungry cries of Felicity, she smiled to see her husband sleeping beside her. She had chosen not to employ a wet nurse and instead provide the baby with nourishment herself. Latching was still new but going well.

As Elizabeth fed her baby at her breast, she hummed a lullaby and thought over the strangeness of the day. Instead of enduring repeating calendar days, they each had a baby. Who knew what the future held? Despite the worry directly following Felicity’s birth, Elizabeth believed her daughter had inherited her parents’ strength of spirit. She already seemed stronger.

When she finished nursing, Elizabeth continued to hold her newborn and sing:

“Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,

Bye bye, lully, lullay.

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,

Bye bye, lully, lullay.

Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Carol- Twelve Days of Christmas

christmas carolTwelve Days of Christmas

 

January 30, 1812

Dearest Lizzy,

 

Can you believe we have been married nearly a month? I hope married life is finding you as well as it finds me. Charles is so kind and such a treasure to me!

We have had many conversations about our fears, and I must thank you for encouraging me to speak openly with my husband about it. A closeness I could not have imagined has formed between us.

Last week, I hosted my first dinner party. Sir William and Lady Lucas, Mr. and Mrs. Long, and Mrs. King were invited. I believe the favourites were the partridge and pears. Mama was such a help to me. I know you were worried about her change in demeanour being permanent, but she has been all I could wish for. Instead of taking control, she gave suggestions only when I asked. She has even made Lydia remain home at times, letting Kitty be the only Bennet daughter “out.”

I hope this finds you well.

Yours,

Jane Bingley

 

February 14, 1812

Dear Mary,

I hope, my sister, that your husband has been as romantic as mine on this Valentine’s Day. A pair of turtle doves arrived this morning. I can think of no better symbol for our love.

Pray, reply with haste so I may know what wretched gift Richard has procured for you. We must laugh at him when we can, you know.

Regarding your lastif Richard is deployed, of course, you are welcome at Pemberley. I could not bear the thought of my sister being all alone while her beloved faces such danger. You must come. Indeed, I would prefer a visit for less tragic reasons. We will soon be in London. Might a visit be possible then?

Yours,

Lizzy

 

March 24, 1812

Dear Jane,

Richard and I have arrived at Rosings. Richard had not expected an invitation this year as Lady Catherine still seemed irate about Darcy’s marriage to Lizzy. However, now that I have met her, I believe her bark is worse than her bite. She asked me many questions, to which Lizzy would have loved to reply with suitable impertinence. She is curious about her nephew’s wife. I thought I might encourage our sister to work on her husband and reconcile.

I have seen Mr. Collins and Charlotte as well. He echoes his patroness in everything as useful as a flock of colly birds. Meanwhile, Charlotte remains too proud of her cows and hens to display ill-humour at her husband’s embarrassing ramblings. I came prepared to hold our cousin in high regard and see him in the office of a clergyman. Now, I cannot find anything admirable. Richard is ten times the man our cousin is, and now I fully understand Elizabeth’s censure and pity for our friend.

Now, I must write our sister. Richard is teasing me and saying he shall send me a flock of hens and starlings after seeing how I “admired” Mrs. Collins’s. To think, Lizzy has turtle doves!

Your devoted sister,

Mary

 

May 15, 1812

Dear Lizzy,

We have just come from Netherfield and had the most glorious time at Jane’s birthday celebration. Mr. Bingley gave her a set of five gold rings. Sapphire, emerald, ruby, diamonds, and amethyst all splendidly arranged. Oh, they complement her gowns and complexion very well. Despite the finery and her smile, I know her joy was incomplete due to the absence of you and Mary.

You and Mr. Darcy were very kind to invite me to summer with you and Miss Darcy. I will miss Mama and Papa terribly, but they agree it will be good for me to have more experience away from Meryton. They have also said it will help Lydia to develop her own character without a sister to support her.

We look forward to your visit in June, when I hope we will hear of a blessing. Jane has told me that you know of her upcoming “Christmas gift,” as she calls it. If you and Mary have news as well, I will be busy with sewing baby things for months!

Kitty

 

July 28, 1812

Dear Mary,

 

I have had a letter from Kitty at Pemberley. She tells me of her and Georgiana swimming with geese in the lake. Can you imagine? I never would have thought stern Mr. Darcy would allow such a thing!

She also wrote of Lady Catherine visiting. Kitty says she was too afraid to say anything above one-word answers, following Georgiana’s suit. You have met the lady. Is she truly so terrible? She hired Mr. Collins, after all.

You will remember Suzy, the milkmaid, of course. She has found herself in an unfortunate situation from one of the militia who recently left for Brighton. Mama and Papa plan to help her in some way, but I can only think it might have been me. I do not believe I ever said it before, but I am sorry for not heeding your words previously.

Greet Richard for me, and please come to Pemberley for Christmas. If the babe comes early, then I am sure Pemberley can provide for two babies as well as one. It will not be Christmas if we are not all together.

Lydia

 

September 21, 1812

Dear Lizzy,

My hand can barely write for shaking. Richard has had orders and will soon be returning to the Continent. I cannot sleep. Every time I close my eyes, I see him marching with drums and fife playing. His babe moves within me, and all I can do is pray that he will not grow up without a father.

Life has changed considerably for us all in a year. Did you know I had written in my journal before last Christmas that I wished we could see the future before making a choice? It seemed some magic happened whereby we were shown many possible consequences of our decisions, and I falsely felt secure, for this was never one we faced. I do not regret marrying Richard, of course. I only wish I had another chance to alter my course, to save my love from this trial. It may be fruitless and silly, but I wish for just a bit more Christmas magic.

I write you as I believe you will not laugh at me but commiserate.

Your sister,

Mary

 

October 20, 1812

Dear Lizzy,

Can you believe nearly a year ago we all danced at Netherfield? How my life has changed! So blessed am I!

We have hosted a farewell ball, although I did not dance, before leaving for the estate in Cheshire. Lydia is a regular favourite. Replacing the brashness of last year, she is now reserved. Gentlemen seem more enamoured of her maturity and quiet words. However, she claims she will not marry before her twentieth birthday. You may not recognise her when you see her at Christmas. I daresay Kitty will have altered much as well.

I have had a letter from Mary. How startling it is to have her message devoid of scriptures while she confesses her deepest fears. I wish we could do something for her and Richard. It seems so unfair that our husbands have such independence while his very life is at stake on the whim of others.

While I enjoyed an evening of watching ladies in elegant dresses, she endured another night terrified for her husband and unborn child.

I pray all is well with you. I trust Darcy has recovered from the stress of the harvest.

Jane

 

November 30, 1812

Dear Mary,

I apologise, my dear sister, that my husband and I were unable to convince Richard to give up his commission. It appears, if my Darcy relatives are any indication, that the stubbornness and pride I have known my darling husband to have comes from the Fitzwilliam side of the family.

Come to Pemberley. We will shower you with love and affection. I am confident Richard wishes for you to be comfortable during your confinement and for the duration of his campaign.

If you do not arrive by December 23, Darcy says he will fetch you himself—loath as he would be to leave me at such a time.

 

Your scolding and emotional older sister,

Lizzy

Pride & Prejudice & Epiphanies- Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

P&P&EPrevious Chapters: Chapter OneChapter Two Chapter ThreeChapter Four / Chapter FiveChapter SixChapter Seven

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

Longbourn

January 13, 1812

 

Elizabeth looked in the mirror as she readied for her wedding day. The three weeks of her engagement to Mr. Darcy had been a whirlwind. Last week, her cousin, Mr. Collins, had married her best friend, Charlotte. Lady Lucas enjoyed crowing about the county that although Mrs. Bennet had three engaged daughters, hers married first. Amazingly, Elizabeth’s mother had not taken the bait. The revelations of the weeks preceding her engagement remained fixed in Mrs. Bennet’s mind, as well as the minds of the others.

The house was quiet now while Jane, Elizabeth, and Mary shared a chamber to dress. Mrs. Bennet and Aunt Gardiner were downstairs overseeing the wedding breakfast. Kitty, Lydia, and Georgiana were helping with decorations. Elizabeth smiled softly as she considered that at last her father would have the quiet and peace he had long desired, but it came at such a cost.

“I think I am ready,” Elizabeth said. She had elected to use the mirror last.

“Are you sure?” Mary asked, her voice trembling.

“You are not having second thoughts, are you, dearest?” Jane asked and hugged her sister.

“No, I do not think so.” Mary shook her head.

Elizabeth smiled. The engagement had allowed Mary’s beauty to blossom. She now looked lovelier than she ever had before, and the confidence she gained from feeling the unconditional love of a good man made her glow.

“I love Richard so very much,” Mary whispered. “I am worried about being a wife; running a house and pleasing him.”

“He does not seem very hard to please,” Elizabeth said. Richard was one of the most amiable gentlemen she had ever met, and she looked forward to calling him brother.

“I know,” Mary agreed, “I never said my fears were rational.”

Jane and Elizabeth shared an amused look.

“He is so…so worldly. What if I cannot please him like a wife should?” Mary blushed scarlet.

“Oh,” Jane said and looked at her feet.

From the colour rising in her elder sister’s cheeks, Elizabeth guessed that Jane also had such fears.

Pulling on courage that Elizabeth did not know she had, she came to her sisters’ sides. “Do you believe they love you?”

They both nodded.

“Then what do you have to fear? Our gentlemen do not love us because they believe we are perfect. That would not be love. As much as we see their flaws, they see ours.”

“Sometimes I do fear that Charles puts me on a pedestal,” Jane confessed. “Although I know if I had shown him more encouragement, he never would have left Netherfield.”

“Did you say as much to him?” Elizabeth asked.

“I tried, but he would not listen. He took all the blame.”

Elizabeth nodded. “He was not entirely innocent. Selfishly, I would rather you be with a man who thinks you faultless than who tosses all blame on you.”

“Lizzy,” Jane laughed, “you would not want the same for yourself. I know you have disagreed with Mr. Darcy about him taking the blame for everything.”

“Our mistakes are far different from either yours or Charles’s. We will all soon be married and have plenty of time to talk with our husbands. I am sure you will find a way to say what you must. Do not let this evening end without expressing your fears.”

Mary sighed. “It is not as easy for Jane and me, I think. Our husbands did not save our lives at risk to themselves.”

“Is that what has worried you?” Elizabeth laughed. “Well, Mr. Darcy did not fight tooth and nail to come propose to me for weeks on end. He did not even want to love me. Nor did he kiss me senseless in a crowded room.”

“I was not senseless,” Mary pouted.

“Did you stop him?” Elizabeth raised her brows.

“Of course not,” Mary laughed. “That was proof of my good sense!”

“Indeed!” Elizabeth and Jane laughed as well.

“We must not compare our experiences. I trust that just as we each have the perfect man for our personalities, we have experienced the best journey to love in our individual way. Let us try an experiment. Mary, how did you know you loved the colonel?”

Mary blushed but raised her chin proudly. “You know that I recorded journal entries. Increasingly, I grew concerned about the strangeness occurring. However, whenever I saw Richard, I felt my worries vanish. Something about him gave me hope. Something told me he would assist us. Even after he kissed me, I had not known I loved him. Now, I can see that I saw in him what was lacking in my life: a source of joy and someone I could confide in and rely upon.”

Elizabeth nodded. “Jane?”

“All my life I have been called beautiful. It never felt like anyone saw beneath my exterior. When Mr. Bingley returned and apologised, when he understood the pain I went through, I knew he possessed my heart. He made me feel truly beautiful by recognising I was more than the sum of a well-proportioned figure and face.”

Now, both sisters looked expectantly at Elizabeth. “Darcy always created extreme emotions in me. The passion he stirred frightened me. Hatred was so much easier to understand and maintain. However, I craved to know more of him. To understand him. When we faced Wickham, he showed me parts of himself that he had tucked away from others. When I thought he might die…it was like a part of me was dying as well. I may not have always recognised my feelings as love, but once I did, I would not let them go.”

“I think I understand,” Mary said. “I am ready now. I wish to become Mrs. Richard Fitzwilliam.”

Jane eagerly nodded, and the three sisters rose from the bed they sat upon and hugged. Walking down the stairs, their family awaited them in the drawing room. The carriage took them to the church, and while they recited their vows, their hearts soared, knowing their joy was shared by a sister as well.


I hope you enjoyed reading about Kitty, Lydia, Mrs. Bennet and even Mr. Wickham finding a better path in life. I’ll be posting an extended epilogue called MR. DARCY’S CHRISTMAS CAROL in the next few days.

You may also purchase MR. DARCY’S MIRACLE AT LONGBOURN, going live as ebook on Amazon, Nook, Kobo and iBooks on 12/8/17 which contains all three parts.

Pride & Prejudice & Epiphanies- Hallelujah Chorus

P&P&EPrevious Chapters: Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four / Chapter Five / Chapter Six

Hallelujah Chorus

London

December 23, 1811

 

Darcy entered the rented stagecoach and sighed. Across from him, Mr. Gardiner smiled.

“Relieved?”

“Incredibly,” Darcy answered. “I know you might think I should have pushed for this years ago, but devotion to my father’s memory made it impossible.”

Mr. Gardiner shook his head and held up his hands. “No, no. I do not pass judgment on the situation. I think perhaps I saw it with more clarity, but surely even your father would have washed his hands of Wickham after everything.”

“If Father had been alive, a great number of these things never would have happened.”

“You cannot know that,” Gardiner insisted. “If the events of this season have not made that clear to you, then perhaps nothing will.”

Darcy grew quiet. He had not thought Wickham destined to become a murderous madman. Darcy had long believed that if his father had lived, many events would have happened differently. However, he never would have met Elizabeth. That was an alternate reality he did not wish to consider. All the headache and heartache with his nemesis was worth the joy he felt with her.

“Perhaps things may have been different with Father alive,” Darcy said slowly, “but that does not mean they would have been better.” The years that his father was alive and yet blind to the perfidy of Wickham’s ways had been inexpressibly painful to Darcy.

Gardiner peered at him.

“What is it?”

“I was checking for grey at your temples,” he laughed. “For such a young man, you speak with wisdom!”

Darcy chuckled. He genuinely liked Mr. Gardiner and his wife. They had both been easy to talk with. They were neither vulgar nor conceited. He had invited them to Pemberley next Christmas. Mrs. Gardiner added the notion of touring Pemberley wrapped in snow. Elizabeth’s eyes lit with joy as she listened to Darcy talk about the sleigh rides and snowball fights of his youth.

Longing tugged at his heart. It would make for a very long day, but they were now on their return trip to Meryton. Having lived through the pain of separation from Elizabeth for a month and then the havoc of recent events, he wished never to leave her side again. When he arrived at Longbourn that evening, he hoped she would consent to a speedy wedding. Grinning, Darcy did not think the other prospective bridegrooms would dislike the notion of a triple wedding.

When not woolgathering about his beloved, Darcy and Gardiner spoke of fishing and hunting. Darcy learned Gardiner had enough income to purchase an estate, like Bingley’s father had amassed, but he did not wish to give up the day-to-day control of his enterprise. He enjoyed the work, and Darcy respected him all the more for it. Most landed gentlemen became useless wastes and raised just as terrible children. George Darcy had worked hard to keep his children from becoming such, although with influences from his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, it was not easy.

Mr. Gardiner must have sensed the direction of Darcy’s thoughts, for his next question was about the very lady. “I understand your aunt has an estate in Kent. She is the patroness of my brother-in-law’s heir.”

“Yes, such a strange set of connections. He is to marry Elizabeth’s friend. It seems that even if I had not returned to Netherfield, I would see Elizabeth again at Easter.”

Gardiner grinned. “Love conquers all, then!”

“Indeed.” Darcy smiled.

“I am happy to hear you agree. My wife and I have worried the most for Elizabeth’s attachment to you. All the engagements are unexpected to us—you can understand why. However, your situation in life is far different than Elizabeth’s.”

“I believe she is up to the task,” Darcy said. He chose to tread carefully. He did not wish to insult the Gardiners or Bennets and agree too readily, but neither could he lie and say it was not a concern.

“As long as she knows what is being asked of her.”

Darcy shrugged. “Some may view her with contempt. That would be the case no matter how I married. Some might believe her beneath me. On the other hand, if I married a title, many would say that was above me. Unfortunately, people feel they have the right to judge my life.”

“You understand that Elizabeth can be a tad sensitive to judgment and feelings of inadequacy.”

“Respectfully, sir,” Darcy said with a solemn voice, “I believe I have seen her in the company of those who disapprove of her more often than you have. Mr. Bingley’s sisters, while not very important in society, hold similar opinions to them. Elizabeth ran circles around their intelligence. Miss Bingley never knew if Elizabeth mocked her or was being civil. It was entertaining to watch, and she was nothing short of magnificent.”

“Indeed?” Gardiner laughed. “I am pleased to hear it.”

“I understand I uttered words before our acquaintance began which wounded her. I know she, quite justifiably, did not spare any grace when she reported my deficiencies far and wide. I suspect you and your wife received such information?”

“Yes,” Gardiner agreed. Sitting back, he folded his hands over his belly. “I do not doubt her attachment to you. Even at the time of her letter, it seemed as though she was oversensitive because she cared for your opinion despite her words.”

“Ah,” Darcy said. They had got to the heart of the matter. “And you want to be sure I understand that she values my opinion.”

Gardiner nodded. It had not entirely occurred to Darcy before. He had been so desperate for her good opinion, once he realised he did not have it, that he never considered she felt equally desperate for his.

“Let me tell you why I am the perfect husband for Miss Elizabeth,” Darcy said and leaned forward. “No man could love her as I do. No other man needs her as I do. They might see her beauty and enjoy her wit, but they do not need to hear her laughter like a drowning man needs air. They do not need to see her eyes light up in amusement. They are not fascinated with the pitch of her voice, the flip of her hair, the movement of her hands. They do not see her as a glowing light which, while I admit I desperately want to light my own, can be snuffed out with selfishness.”

Darcy shook his head. “A few weeks ago, I would have argued I could offer Elizabeth the world. I would have enumerated what she could gain by marriage to me or vow to keep her safe. In my heart of hearts, I would have acknowledged that I wanted to capture her essence, for it brought me comfort. Now, I only know that I have the good fortune of her esteem, and I will never let it go. Now, I know that it is not enough to be two independent, strong-willed people, but that together, we can defeat anything. Now, I know that to love a person means to encourage them to grow. That by adding to their strength, my happiness is intensified. I never knew such selflessness could be so rewarded.”

Mr. Gardiner said nothing, but his smile was answer enough. When Darcy reached Longbourn, he requested a walk with Elizabeth. The cold air made their breaths puff out like billows of chimney smoke. He wrapped his arm around her tightly as he whispered in her ear his love and devotion to her. In between stolen kisses, they planned their wedding and the dreams they hoped to achieve in their marriage. Fortunately, when they returned to the house, no one commented on the contrast between their breathless state of overheated cheeks and the coldness of the outside air.

Pride & P rejudice & Epiphanies- I Saw Three Ships

P&P&EPrevious Chapters: Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four / Chapter Five

 

I Saw Three Ships

London

December 23, 1811

 

Wickham cursed under his breath as the coach brought him closer to the London docks. He had terrible luck before, but he had always counted on Darcy’s need for privacy and his familial pride to save him. It kept Wickham coming back time and time again.

The strangeness of the repeating days merely allowed him to hone his plans. He kept meticulous notes, and while he had no memories of the events, he had recorded them all. Whatever was going on centred around Darcy and the Bennets. There was only Bennet who could interest Darcy: Elizabeth.

Wickham had to admit, Darcy had exquisite taste. It was one reason why as children, he always sought to emulate his chum. Elizabeth was a fine specimen of a woman. He could have asked Darcy for anything, and the man would have offered it to him to ensure her safety. Wickham had not expected Elizabeth to act so courageously.

Of course, even when she did, Wickham triumphed. Darcy had not pursued him. Mr. Bennet had not pressed charges. That he had not been invited to Longbourn again served as enough fact that they had either regained their memories or left their own means of recalling them. Just when he was planning to slip away, Colonel Forster began having him watched constantly. In time, he might have figured out a way to leave the area. However, Wickham had not considered that Darcy would share the information with an outsider. Nor could he have guessed that Elizabeth Bennet’s London uncle had the means of silencing him.

This morning, when offered the choice between debtors’ prison and Australia, Wickham eagerly chose the latter. Even more surprising was Darcy’s treatment of him.

“Why, George?” he had asked quietly.

He shrugged. “I told you, I felt entitled.”

“Do you remember that night?”

“No,” Wickham answered truthfully. “After I fled Longbourn, I returned to my room. You may not guess, but I keep scrupulous notes on things. It’s how I can always fleece people out of money and favours.”

“By people you mostly mean me.”

“Not just you.” Wickham shrugged. “You did not get me into the militia.”

“No, I had quite washed my hands of you and thought you were afraid enough of my reaction to stay away.”

“I was,” Wickham confessed. “At first. But then you did nothing, as you always do, and I grew comfortable.”

“That night, though. You seemed crazed.”

“I had been reading my notes in the morning and growing more confused and desperate by the repeating days. Since I have no memories after December twenty-second, I really cannot say how I felt, but in my journal, I was becoming unhinged.”

“What has stopped you from acting that way now?”

“I do not know.”

Wickham affected a shrug, but the truth was he hated feeling like he had no control over his behaviour and actions. He had often played the victim and claimed to have no control over his destiny and situation in life, but this was far worse. It was as though he had strings attached to him and someone else pulled them.

“Would you have really hurt her?”

The smallest remaining sliver of remorse and compassion, of real humanity, in his heart was stung by the feeling in Darcy’s words and the look of mourning that entered his eyes as he thought about the woman he loved dying. At that moment, Wickham felt disgusted with himself for the first time in half his life. Darcy had been his friend and playmate before jealousy reared its ugly head.

“I want to say no, I would not have, but I cannot promise that.” Looking down at his hands for a moment, he wrestled with his next words. Finally, he lifted his head and looked Darcy in the eye. “You ought to send me away. I cannot control this compulsion to harm you, it seems. I am always begging for you to save me; this time save yourself. Save me by saving yourself.”

Darcy held his eyes for a long time, then slowly nodded. “You would have a chance to truly start over. Transform your life. No more Darcy name and money to rescue you.”

Wickham slowly exhaled. A few weeks ago, the thought would have been insupportable. He should not have to pick himself up by his bootstraps and make a life for himself while others, ones he was raised with and did everything better than, had everything. But he could lie to himself no longer. Perhaps with an ocean and continents between them, he might live to the potential that Mr. Darcy and his father had seen in him. He might cease comparing himself to his old friend.

“Thank you,” Wickham said as he stood to leave. It was too simple to convey all he felt and owed, but gratitude was a new sensation.

Darcy nodded and told him to get ready, that they would leave in a matter of minutes.

Now, four hours later, Wickham saw ships at port and smelled the stench of the Thames. God help him. Spending months at sea in winter and during a war was no easy task. If he made it to land, he would be a better man.

The carriage came to a stop, and Mr. Gardiner exited first. Wickham moved forward on the seat, but Darcy stayed him for a moment.

“I have been deciding if you should know this or not,” Darcy said. “I hope I am not making a mistake. You were not entirely to blame for your actions that night.”

“I wasn’t?” Wickham looked at Darcy in disbelief. “I was drunk or drugged, I suppose you will tell me. Well, it’s never happened before.”

“I would not know your behaviour under the influence of such things.” Darcy scowled. “You did not press for information about the repeating days.”

“I would rather not talk about that madness. It is over, and I have a ship to get on.”

“In a moment,” Darcy sighed. “You may have guessed that those of us at Longbourn and Netherfield have discovered the truth. Others in your unit did not. You were always so clever, George.”

Wickham tipped his head in acknowledgement, knowing it was not an easy confession from the man.

“In your journal as you recorded events, did they vary drastically?”

“Well, I did not take them very seriously,” he said. “I thought I must be going mad, or at the very least recorded dreams which I no longer recalled.”

“So, they did vary?”

“Not usually. There was one where I had eloped with Lydia Bennet. Of all the stupid things.”

“Then your next entry returned you to Meryton as though nothing had occurred?”

Wickham nodded

“Yes, we also have suffered from strange occurrences. It seems our fates were linked together. The more I ignored your presence and its potential problems for the Bennets, whom I had wanted to reject as unworthy of my notice and fought my love for Elizabeth, the more havoc was wreaked. One day, you had eloped with Lydia, abandoned her, and she bore your child. I never knew. Bingley and I had left the area and saw nothing of the Bennets for years.”

Wickham scrubbed a hand over his face. Would he do something like that? Probably. What was Darcy’s point?

“However, there was another day when you were not involved at all. Mr. Collins had died, and Bingley could not court Jane because she was in mourning.”

“What are you getting at?”

“The things we experience during this time loop are only glimpses of what might have been. When I fought returning to Hertfordshire, I made everything worse. When I insulted Elizabeth in a proposal, you attacked us that very night.”

“You blame yourself?” Wickham’s mouth hung open. He had always known Darcy took on too much responsibility, but this was the height of stupidity. He could not play on his guilt this time.

“No.” Darcy shook his head. “Lizzy is teaching me not to blame myself for everything. No, I merely mean to say they were only what might have been.”

Wickham continued to stare at Darcy, uncertain what he meant.

“You are not mad, George,” Darcy said with a sigh followed by a small smile. “Neither are you a murderer. Your actions that night propelled me and many others into better decisions, but they are not a reflection of what you absolutely are. You have a choice.”

“I have a choice?” It felt like a thousand pounds had been lifted from his shoulders.

“Get on that boat and change your life.” Darcy pointed out the window before exiting.

Wickham followed suit. It suddenly occurred to him how alone he was in the world. The man who could have been like a brother to him now saw him go with no regret. Not one soul in England would miss him. Yes, it was time to change.

Settling for a nod to Darcy and Gardiner, he walked up the gangway to the boat and was directed to the correct chamber. In the distance, he heard church bells ringing, and Wickham had no choice but to collapse in his bed as his senses swirled.