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
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.
“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
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.”
“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.
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.” 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.”
“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.
“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.
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.”
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.”