Excerpts: My Dearest Mr. Darcy
The path was not steep, in fact was not a true path at all, but more accurately consisted of sandy gaps between the tufts of vegetation. Twice it was necessary to step over masses of flowering gorse, reacquiring the trail downward. Nonetheless, it was an easy descent, Lizzy not the slightest bit winded. Her booted feet sunk into the warm sand with each stride. She laughed, looking at Darcy with sparkling eyes.
“It is rather difficult to walk on and so warm! I can feel the heat through my soles. I was planning on removing my shoes but think not.” She squatted, scooping a handful of the hot dry sand and trickling it through her fingers.
“Closer to the water the sand will be cooler, and firmer. You can remove your shoes then if you wish. I should warn you, the sand will lodge between your toes.”
He was grinning happily, Lizzy leaning onto his chest with a coy simper and fingers at his cravat. “Will you remove your boots, William, so I can see sand between your lovely toes? I might even be impelled to tickle your gritty toes with mine. Would this please you?”
“I suppose I could be induced to perform in such a childish manner as long as we remain alone.” He bent to kiss her as they were utterly alone, even Mr. Anders and Tillson out of view, but Lizzy pivoted and dashed toward the water line, her glittering laugh waving behind her.
Her sprint was not as speedy or graceful as usually accomplished due to the soft sand, Darcy rapidly outdistancing her with longer and stronger legs encased in tough boots. He halted on the hard sand, just beyond the tide’s reach, hands extended to assist her final few steps.
“Very well,” she panted, “it is official. I am a whale too ponderous to move across the sand! Grossly unfair, Mr. Darcy, and it is entirely your fault!”
Darcy chuckled, kissing her forehead and then kneeling to unlace her shoes. “I do believe you have something to do with the state you find yourself in, my love; however, if it pleases you, I shall assume all blame. Steady yourself on my shoulder and breathe deeply. The salt air will revive you. Other foot.”
Lizzy gingerly placed her naked foot onto the sand, but Darcy was correct that it was cooler near the water, although warm. She wiggled her toes, smiling at the strange sensation. “It feels so different than dirt or river sand. So fine and soft.” Her other foot was now bare, Darcy holding her boots and stockings, and she began to stroll, slowly digging her toes with each step while hiking her dress up to mid-calf. She headed toward the water line, the sand gradually cooling further with moistness apparent, as Darcy watched her with rising delight.
He experienced a sudden flash of memory.
Georgiana at four years of age, chubby legs striding with exaggerated steps over the sand at Sidmouth with her tiny face screwed up in perplexity, seriously debating whether she liked this odd sensation or not. Anne Darcy held her daughter’s hand with a sunny smile, laughing her throaty laugh, while Darcy and his father stood several feet away observing the scene with pleasure.
“She is going to cry,” a solemn sixteen-year-old Fitzwilliam said. “You wait. One of her infamous bellows that will frighten the seagulls clear to France.”
His father laughed, clapping a hand onto his son’s shoulder, already on the same level as his own. “Bet you a shilling she laughs.”
Darcy looked at his father with a grin. “Deal!” They shook on it and not two minutes later Darcy was digging into his pockets for a shiny shilling to hand over to his father while Georgie chortled her babyish delight, tugging on her mother’s hand in an insistent urge to become one with the cresting waves.
The scene on this deserted stretch of Norfolk shore was different in a myriad of ways, but the sight of his wife laughing as the cold, foamy water lapped at her ankles was strangely reminiscent. He did not fear her bodily launching into the sea, but her amusement and childlike zeal were not too dissimilar from Georgiana’s. She glanced over her shoulder to her husband, who remained standing and holding her shoes.
“Are you afraid, Mr. Darcy? Fear the cold water may freeze your toes? Or that the tide may suck you in, a big fellow like yourself?”
Darcy shook his head, deigning not to answer. He looked about, spotting a rock five feet away. He sat and removed his boots and stockings, after another thorough search about to ensure they were alone. He joined his wife, already splashing her way toward the rocks, taking her hand as they strolled. He sighed deeply. “This is precisely as I imagined it. You and I strolling along the beach with the waves crashing and birds flying. Not a soul in sight.”
“It will likely be busier where we are staying, so we should enjoy this time.”
“Not necessarily. Mr. Vernor said the inn is secluded near a private cove. The guests are allotted individual periods to bathe, if desired, or merely gaze into the sea. Of course, we will be visiting other areas more public, but I chose this place for that reason. He also said the dining parlors overlook the ocean. We can dine and watch for sea creatures or ships passing.” He paused, drawing Lizzy into his arms and leaning for a kiss.
They held each other tightly in silence, contentedly watching the surf and inhaling the fresh, crisp air as the sun lowered in the west.
* ~ * ~ *
“Samuel, please ask the nearest footman to inform Dr. Darcy that Mrs. Darcy is having the baby. It is not emergent, but we request his company once he is dressed. Then can you inform Mrs. Reynolds? I will need her here as soon as possible. Thank you.” Samuel left the room with a brisk nod, Darcy standing in the middle for a minute. He took several deep breaths, allowing a wash of tremors to cascade through his veins. He closed his eyes, sending a prayer for strength heavenward. One second at a time, Darcy, he commanded himself, be strong for her and do not let her sense your anxiety!
Entering the room some ten minutes later, Darcy was again in charge of his emotions. Lizzy was reclining as he left her and immediately he noted that she was experiencing another pain, the furrows between her brows present and lips pursed as she concentrated on breathing. He knelt beside the sofa, taking her hand for tender stroking. She released the cleansing exhalation, squeezing his hand and smiling weakly. “I am so thirsty.”
“Mrs. Reynolds should be here any… See, any minute.” He stood to answer the knock at the door, greeting Mrs. Reynolds with a giddy smile. “Mrs. Reynolds, my wife seems determined to present me with our child today. Has Dr. Darcy been sent for? Excellent. First, will you notify Mr. Thurber to send one of the grooms to Hasberry for the Bingleys? I will pen a note to deliver. Secondly, ask the kitchen for a tray and tea, perhaps some juice as well. Let me think… what else?”
“Shall I inform Miss Darcy?”
“If she is awake, yes please. She can keep Mrs. Darcy company as soon as she wishes to. Whatever else you deem sensible; I trust your judgment at this juncture superior to mine. Oh, coffee, please.”
She curtsyed and left, passing George Darcy in the sitting room. He approached with casual strides, tea cup in one hand and muffin in the other, dressed in a flowing garment of canary yellow with green edging.
“I was informed that babies are birthing hereabouts? Elizabeth! You are still pregnant!” He stopped abruptly on the threshold, feigning shock.
“Yes, Uncle, we thought we would wait for you. Now that you have arrived, perhaps you can work your magic and speed the process along?”
“Alas, my dear niece, magic does not reside in these hands. Only staggering expertise and superior knowledge. William, you do intend on dressing and shaving? Your baby’s eyesight will suffer if greeted by such a frightful vision.”
“And your brash appearance is benign?” Elizabeth interjected.
“Babies love bright colors. Stimulates the retina.” He had crossed to the fireside chair positioned across from Lizzy, sitting and extending long legs nonchalantly as he bit into the muffin. “So,” he resumed while chewing, “tell me how we are faring, dear.”
Lizzy launched into a briefly detailed synopsis of her contraction history while Darcy stood nearby, not sure whether he was calmed or irritated by his uncle’s blasé attitude. Luckily he had no time to figure it out as another pain began, Darcy swiftly kneeling at his wife’s side to assist and comfort. George ate in silence while Darcy stroked Lizzy’s forehead and murmured soft encouragement until the pain passed, leaning for a brushing kiss.
He sat back on his heels, yet holding Lizzy’s hand, and turned to his placidly masticating uncle. “What is the plan, Dr. Darcy? What is your professional opinion?”
“Elizabeth, I fear you are yet in the early stages of labor. I could examine you, but it is not necessary. Trust me when I tell you that you will know when the labor is causing changes and nearing completion. The truth is, as we have spoken previously, the birth course will be set by the baby and internal forces. However, there are some actions that may affect the outcome.”
He sat up briskly, suddenly alert and businesslike. “Here is the plan. William, you will freshen up and dress, then go have a full breakfast…”
“You were serious about that?”
“Absolutely. Well, not about the baby’s eyesight part, but you do need to take a few minutes for yourself.”
“I am not leaving my wife!”
“Dearest, I think your uncle is right about this. No, listen. I will need you more later, and you need to be fresh and energized. Food is essential for you as you get grumpy when hungry.” She smiled tenderly, caressing the hand clasped in hers. “And only I am allowed to become grumpy today.”
“I will not leave her, William, and Mrs. Reynolds should return momentarily. We will call you if needed, but trust me in that nothing will change in the following hour, sorry, Elizabeth.”
“Write to Jane and Charles, beloved, and take care of yourself. I will be fine.” She halted as another pain enveloped her. Darcy assumed his role as comforter.
George rose to answer the knock on the sitting room door, revealing a tray-encumbered Mrs. Reynolds trailed by three equally laden maids. “Well, well!” He declared with a broad grin and snatched a blackberry tart, biting hugely. “Mmmmm… Oh my, this is heavenly.” He sighed, eyes closed in ecstasy. “Mrs. Langton is a gift from God.”
“I believe these were for Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, Dr. Darcy,” Mrs. Reynolds said with a smile, “but by all means, help yourself.”
“Thank you, madam. Actually, the father-to-be is ordered to break his fast with his sister, and none of these delicious edibles are appropriate for Mrs. Darcy. She is restricted to liquids and perhaps fruits, if she can tolerate. Anything heavy will induce nausea.” He turned to one of the maids. “Miss, we will require a steady influx of hot, sweet tea and juices.”
* ~ * ~ *
He paused, watching her roughly fluff the pillow and draw the blankets. Softly he spoke, “Remember how I told you once that women would offer themselves to me? Offers I never accepted, but grew somewhat accustomed to nonetheless?” She did not answer, but had stilled with her back yet to him. He swallowed and resumed, “Lady Underwood extended such an invitation to me, several times.” Another pause followed by a deep sigh as he leaned back in the chair. “I should have told you and been honest, but I did not wish to ruin our holiday. I was in error. Please forgive me?”
Lizzy clutched the sheet, not turning. “How did it occur? What did she say?”
“The particulars are not important…”
“They are to me! What happened?”
Her voice was cold as Darcy had never heard it. He frowned but answered her. When he finished, she stood silently for a handful of minutes, the sheet edge crinkled under a white-knuckled fist. His frown deepened and he sat forward, opening his mouth to speak when she abruptly spun about. Her countenance was flushed with a rage he had never witnessed, not even at Kent. Eyes practically shooting sparks, she stormed to where he sat, Darcy involuntarily gripping the chair arms and sinking into the cushions by the force of her anger. She stopped before him, swaying slightly and leaning into his stunned face.
“Do not ever keep such secrets from me, Fitzwilliam Darcy!”
He nodded, but she was already moving away, striding vigorously toward the door in a manner vaguely familiar. It was just like him! Having no idea what she was thinking but truly fearful at the fury evident in every particle of her body, he jumped up and trailed after. The door was opening before he reached her, Darcy lunging forward and slamming it shut with one hand high over her head.
“Out of my way, William!”
“No. I will not allow you to leave so angry and dressed like this. We must discuss this.”
She pivoted, one hand still on the knob and pulling futilely against his superior strength, meeting his eyes with defiance. “She touched my husband! Pretended to be my friend while laying hands on you! She demanded to… to…” Lizzy spluttered shrilly, waving her free hand briskly in the general region of his front side, “know you in the Biblical sense!”
Darcy fisted his free hand over the smile threatening to break forth as he coughed on the laugh that erupted. Lizzy’s eyes narrowed dangerously.
“If you dare to laugh, William, I will hurt you! This is not at all humorous. If the situation were reversed, I know quite well how you would handle it! Pity there is not a sword or pistol about.” And she actually visually scanned the room as if expecting and praying a rapier would materialize.
“Elizabeth, forgive me. You are right. This is not humorous. However, you are overreacting just a bit. Nothing occurred, naturally…”
“I know that!” she snapped, rolling her eyes and piercing him with a look of utter contempt. “I trust your fidelity, William, if not your reasoning and faith in trusting me!”
“I am not so sure my reasoning was flawed, considering your present irrationality.”
She opened her mouth for a sharp retort and then clamped it shut as the partial truth of his softly spoken words penetrated her brain. Her eyes lowered and body relaxed into the solid door, finally releasing her tight grip on the knob. Not trusting her compliance completely, Darcy remained leaning into the door, sizeable frame dwarfing hers.
“How can a woman be so bold and… devious and immoral? Not that I cannot understand her excellent taste,” she whispered, glancing up into his face. Her cheeks were ruddy, anger still evident by the fiery glints deep in her eyes.
“That is kind of you, Elizabeth. But I do not think such women are overly particular.” He sighed. “I should have trusted you with the truth from the beginning, then we both could have avoided her and diverted this argument. You are justified to be vexed with me.”
“Yes, I am vexed with you!” She flared anew, stalking past him to commence pacing and shooting daggers his direction.
* ~ * ~ *
“What song are you playing? I have never heard that one before.” Lizzy glanced up from her embroidery, directing the question toward her sister-in-law, who was entertaining on the pianoforte.
Georgiana reddened, evading Lizzy’s quizzical look. “I wrote it,” she replied in a small voice, speaking louder at the dawning astonishment on Lizzy’s face, “but you cannot tell William! Promise me.”
“Why not? It was beautiful, Georgiana. I had no idea you had composed music. I am very impressed and know William would be as well.”
“I do not think he would understand. And besides, it is merely a trifling thing. Not very good at all.”
“I beg to differ. It was lovely. Perhaps not of the quality to worry Mr. Beethoven that he has serious competition, but certainly enjoyable to hear.”
Georgiana laughed at Lizzy’s tease. “No, I doubt any true composers need be threatened.” She sighed, her eyes suddenly dreamy. “It was fun to try my hand at writing. Lizzy,” she paused, speaking haltingly when she resumed, “do you believe, as Uncle says, that someday females will be able to… be more… be accepted beyond… not be frowned upon or chastised for pursuing… something else… or. Oh, I am making no sense!”
Lizzy laughed. “I understand you, Georgiana. Your uncle is a bit of a revolutionary, is he not?”
Georgiana nodded, giggling. “Indeed. Although I think he usually says radical comments just to see William’s face and enter a debate. Still, it would be nice to have an option in life.”
“Do you not wish to be a wife and mother?”
“Oh yes! Yes, I do!” Georgiana nodded emphatically. “Very much! But,” she rose then, pacing with uncharacteristic energy, “there are times, when I am listening to music, or learning a new piece, when I will see notes upon a sheet in my mind. New notes, joined uniquely as the sounds play within my head, forming sections and whole movements. Cadenza, scherzo, ostinato, toccata. Melodies I have never heard before. Unfamiliar arrangements.”
She stopped, sighing and shrugging. “So I write them down, sometimes. Wondering if they are truly my own ideas or lost remembrances.”
“I see nothing wrong with you placing your musical visions upon paper, Georgiana. If this is a gift you have been granted, then explore it! Creating music, even if only enjoyed by a few, is a beautiful, worthwhile endeavor.”
“You do not think it silly? A waste of time?”
“Of course not. Why is it any different than painting or weaving? If you enjoy writing your own songs, you should. I know I would love to hear more. How many have you composed?”
“Only a few sonatas, an impromptu, and I am working on a nocturne. All of a romantic bent, thus confirming my hopes in life and lack of wild inspiration.” She finished with a laugh.
“What an accomplished woman,” Lizzy whispered with true pride and awe. “Your brother would be immeasurably proud.”
“Without a doubt. He adores you, Georgiana, and only wishes for your happiness. You have no idea how proud he is of you. Play any of your tunes, especially the one you played for me, and he will probably burst from the joy.”
“Did you know that women are allowed to enroll as students at the Conservatoire in Paris?” She glanced at a nodding Lizzy, her cheeks rosy and voice wistful. “It must be amazing to be surrounded by people desiring to learn nothing but music. To be immersed in music all day. To meet great musicians and singers and composers.”
“You will travel to the Continent, Georgie. You know William plans for it. There you will encounter innumerable opportunities to enhance your skills. Paris is going nowhere and the Conservatoire will wait. Of course, this is provided you do not fall in love with the first man you meet at Almack’s next spring.”
“Oh, heaven forbid! William would surely have a heart seizure! I think he would sooner allow me to take the Grand Tour or dwell in Paris than that! Frankly I pray I am refused so I do not have to face such agony.”
Lizzy laughed. “I am sorry to disappoint, my dear, but the odds of that are miniscule.”
“One never knows, Lizzy. The Patronesses are whimsical in their approval. I heard that Angelica Cole was refused and Mary Ward!” Georgiana sat next to Lizzy, her face pale. “William would be devastated if I was denied, but then I am terrified of dancing with all eyes upon me. Oh my, I truly am a mouse as Richard insists!”
“Silly girl! First, Richard calls you his ‘little mouse’ because you are sweet, adorable, and mild. Second, no Darcy will be refused at Almack’s. And third, you have had some practice dancing while in Wales, and after your presentation at Court, Almack’s will be nothing.”
Now it was Georgiana who laughed. “You say that because appearing at Court is what you dread!”
“Indeed I do,” Lizzy shuddered. “One look at the gate before St. James’s Palace and I knew I never wanted to walk through them. How can you be so complaisant? I was perfectly content to forego all the ‘coming out’ nonsense. Why does William insist I must?”
“Because you are Mrs. Darcy of Pemberley. He is proud of you and wants everyone to know how immensely fortunate he is.”
“I shall trip over the formal gown and train, I know I shall. Or forget the proper phrases. The Prince will be insulted and I shall be mortified.”
“Nonsense. Aunt Madeline will prepare us adequately, and besides, it is in and out within five minutes. I, on the other hand, will suffer the trauma of a whole evening being stared at and probably tripping over my own feet. It shall be torture!”
“Be cheered, dear sister. William will be there with you as chaperone, most likely glowering at every eligible male in the dance hall, so none of them will have the audacity to ask you to dance anyway!”