Today I am thrilled to share with you a Christmas story written exclusively for Just Jane 1813 readers, by the Caitlin Williams, based on her successful JAFF debut, “Ardently.”
“Ardently” is one of those books that still has a strong place in my heart… I loved the older, and more mature characters of Darcy and Elizabeth in this story. I loved their humility, their caution, and most of all, their tender, all-consuming love that found a way to help them rebuild their lives in a way that felt both gratifying and sentimental.
So, when Caitlin agreed to write this exclusive Christmas story based on “Ardently” for our Just Jane 1813 readers, I felt such tremendous joy and excitement. When I actually had the story in my hands, (and stopped everything I was doing to read it!) I immediately found myself reconnected with beloved friends from not-too-long-ago. It was a pleasure to read, and in the spirit of the holidays, I feel an even greater joy in sharing this story with our readers because based on all of the glowing reviews online for this book, I think lots of readers are going to snuggle up with a warm, tasty beverage and enjoy this holiday treat, brought to us courtesy of Ms. Williams.
Caitlin Williams wanted to share the message below with our Just Jane 1813 readers:
Happy Christmas everyone.
This is a small companion piece to a little e-book I wrote this year called ‘Ardently’. I wrote it purely for my own amusement and with little expectation that anybody other than my nearest and dearest would ever read it.
I was so very surprised when people did, and left (for the most part) such lovely reviews. I owe particular thanks to those first reviewers, who took the time and trouble to post their thoughts and encouraged others to give ‘Ardently’ a try.
If you have not read ‘Ardently’, this extra chapter does contain spoilers. Should you wish to read the whole book, it can be found on Amazon ($5.36 – a prodigious bargain).
I have included here the link to “Ardently” for anyone who wishes to view and purchase the book: http://www.amazon.com/Ardently-A-Pride-Prejudice-Variation-ebook/dp/B00YB9C0BS
I’d like to thank Caitlin Williams for taking the time to write such a heartwarming story for our Just Jane 1813 readers. As many people know, “Ardently” was one of my absolute favorite new JAFF books this year! Reading a story created just for this blog has been a highlight of my holiday season this year! I can’t wait to read Ms. William’s next JAFF book!
Even More Ardently by Caitlin Williams
Georgiana and Mrs Mountford’s voices floated somewhere around the edge of Elizabeth’s consciousness without hope of success in permeating it, for she was far too focussed on her husband’s neck, or to be more precise, a sweet little spot beneath his left earlobe. She had been married eighteen months, why had she not previously noticed how particularly attractive this small crevice was; how utterly fascinating she found it to watch. If she looked closely, she could see the twitch of his strong jaw every time he swallowed and if she looked closer still, the almost imperceptible pulse of his heart. The temptation to reach up and kiss him in that exact spot was almost overwhelming and if her dearest aunt and her lovely new sister had not been present, she would have done so without question. Fitzwilliam Darcy would have smiled at her little breach of propriety, sheltered as they were by the cover of the night sky, before sliding his hand beneath the travelling rug to place it atop hers.
The carriage was bumping over the cobbles, jostling them this way and that way, and she tried to look elsewhere, but her gaze and attention wandered helplessly again to his neck. What a finely put together man he was and how fortunate was she! The sweetness of chance had brought them together after she had once foolishly cast him aside – oh, how in debt she was to lady luck. Now, if only the rest of the world might disappear for a few moments, in order that she might press her lips to that place below his ear and put her fingers through his dark curls.
“Are you well?” The deep timber of his voice and his earnest dark gaze made her shiver a little.
“I am very well.”
“You are not cold?”
“Not at all.”
“I do not like you travelling in this weather.”
“Tis’ a little light snow, I think it will stop soon. It does not even cover the ground.”
He made a little noise of disapproval, as if the snow might sense his displeasure and stop upon his orders. “If it does not improve we shall not make the journey to Pemberley, I shall not risk it.”
“Of course we shall go back to Pemberley, I will not have Christmas anywhere else and we expect guests.”
“Mr and Mrs Turner?”
“Jane and Edward, yes,” she replied, smiling a little at his formality. Her husband was such a very proper man. How on earth he had fallen for an often improper woman, such as she, Elizabeth could not fathom.
The carriage stopped and Mr Darcy sprang from his seat with great alacrity. He waved away the footman and handed Elizabeth down himself, before turning to perform the same service for his sister and Mrs Mountford.
On the street, Elizabeth pulled her cloak about her more tightly, shielding herself from the biting December wind. She hated to think what damage was being done to her elegant coiffure – her hair was unruly enough as it was, a flurry of snow might be its complete undoing! Fortunately, they were outside for only a few moments, just long enough for her to gaze up at the London sky and be briefly mesmerised by the beauty of the scene. Swirling white flakes fell about the stately, luxurious Darcy carriage, as her companions gathered their own cloaks about them. Then there was the imposing, beloved figure of her husband coming towards her with his elbow extended, snow quickly melting on his hat and lapels. She slipped her hand into the crook of his arm and together they ascended the steps of an elegant London townhouse.
As dearly as Elizabeth had grown to love Pemberley, she had been sequestered there for a good long while with no respite. So now to be in London, at an event that held such promise of pleasure, surrounded by those she loved most dearly, brought forth true feelings of joy and excitement.
Mr Darcy was in immediate demand, drawn away by some important fellow, to discuss some equally important matter of politics. Elizabeth released herself from his arm with a soft smile, moving instead to Mrs Mountford’s side. They ascended the grand staircase together. Her aunt bent her head closer to Elizabeth’s and glanced briefly at Georgiana, who climbed the stairs ahead of them. Her voice was a rushed whisper, “I am glad Georgiana is here, the Viscountess and I believe she should be introduced to her son.”
Elizabeth was surprised, “Her eldest son, the future Lord Winslow?”
“Of course, let’s not trifle with anything less. She has much to offer.”
“I do not think such a high profile match would be right for Georgiana, she is of a sensitive, quiet nature. I beg you to let her sift for herself, she will find her own way.”
“She will not find her own way, Elizabeth. I think there is a very great danger of her hiding behind your skirts and her brother’s shoulders for the rest of her days, if you allow it.”
“And why would I not allow it? Mr Darcy and I are happy to have her at home for as long as she chooses to remain there.”
“You have become as protective of her as Mr Darcy.”
Elizabeth could not refute such an accusation, she was protective of Georgiana. The poor girl had known nothing but disappointment when it came to matters of the heart. “Can you blame me when there are men such as George Wickham, Frederick Yorke and Henry Cartwright in the world? Men who look at her and see only pound notes. She is the sweetest girl alive and deserves someone truly honourable and good. When I was younger, I used to dream of being rich and nobly born, as she is, but now I see fortune is not without its disadvantages. I am glad I was born plain Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Mrs Mountford, indignantly, “but there was nothing plain about Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn.”
“I thank you, but I do worry about her. That business last summer was so upsetting for her.”
“Henry Cartwright! Tsh! She spoke of him quite dismissively in the carriage just now. Henry Cartwright is quite out of her mind. I believe you and Darcy were more upset about it than Georgiana. She has more resilience than you credit her with and she would make a fine Viscountess, a perfectly lovely Lady Winslow. Henry Cartwright is not fit to breathe the same air as her, and anyway, tis by the by, for I hear he has his sights set on young Miss Forsythe and they are soon to be engaged.”
“The American heiress?”
Mrs Mountford nodded. “Apparently, she and her family are impressed by his connections, but he has some rivals. His path is not clear.”
“How do you know all this, we have only been in London two days?”
“You must pay more attention, Elizabeth. You know, my dear, if you continue to spend entire carriage rides engrossed in the inspection of your husband’s left ear, you will learn nothing of any importance.”
Elizabeth blushed and laughed a little. “Or maybe I would learn lots of things of no great importance whatsoever.”
“What might seem unimportant today, can be of vital intelligence on the morrow, one never knows.”
“Well, I must apologise for being so inattentive.”
“No apology necessary. In fact, I am very pleased that you are so very pleased with him.”
They had reached the grand drawing rooms and stopped when Georgiana paused before them at the entrance, throwing a nervous glance over her shoulder.
“Go on in, Georgiana, I have been to hundreds of such events and found that, on the whole, people do not bite,” Mrs Mountford urged Miss Darcy on with a guiding hand at her elbow, ushering her further into the room to stand by an ornate fireplace from where they could survey the scene. After a few moments, Mrs Mountford gave a wry smile. “Though, I see the room is positively swimming with sharks.”
“Oh look, Lizzy, tis Charles and Caroline, and Mrs Hurst, and that must be Charles wife, Cecilia.”
Mrs Mountford’s attention, which had wandered, was brought back by Georgiana’s exclamation. “Miss Bingbong, from Bath?”
“She is now Mrs Yorke, aunt, as you well know,” Elizabeth said, biting her lip. “She is with her brother and some other family.”
“Marvellous, lots of Bingbongs then. We must say hello, renew the acquaintance.”
Elizabeth was more of a mind to do exactly the opposite, and as Lady Winslow’s rooms were crowded and loud, the Bingleys and Yorkes might be very easily avoided. “Must we?”
“Of course we must,” Mrs Mountford insisted, “such riches of absurdity and pretentiousness are not so easily found, and here we are presented with them in abundance – we must seize the opportunity to amuse ourselves, it would be a crime against folly should we not.”
Caroline Yorke, nee Bingley gave Elizabeth a large smile but a very small curtsy. She asked after all their acquaintance, but paid the answers Elizabeth gave no thought at all.
“But it has been too long since we all saw one another. Far too long and how you must be enjoying Pemberley. What glorious summers I have spent there, sipping tea in the saloon and looking out over the lawn towards the elm trees.”
“Spanish chestnuts, Mrs Yorke.”
“They are Spanish chestnuts, on the lawn.”
“Well, a tree is a tree. Yes, the Hursts and I used to stop there every summer on our way to Scarborough. We are bound for Scarborough next summer, you know. I suppose you will be at home?”
Elizabeth smiled at the woman’s effrontery; her transparent, unashamed appeal for an invitation. “And as much as we would love to have you stay at Pemberley to break your journey, Mrs Yorke, I am afraid I am likely to be indisposed next summer.”
Caroline Yorke’s gaze flittered down to Elizabeth’s midriff and back again. “Oh, well, I am happy for you, but please do take care with your figure. You know, Cecilia, Charles’ wife, she has gone to the dogs since her horrid little offspring came along – she now has no waistline to speak of.” Mrs Yorke gave a heavy sigh, “And you, so slim and light on your feet, how I would hate to see you bloated and bedraggled, motherhood is such a curse upon one’s looks. Very few women come through the experience with even a tenth of the beauty they had before it. You must be terrified, but I am sure Mr Darcy’s admiration will hold strong.”
“Well, we shall see, but between you and I, Mrs Yorke, I will say that I was given such beautiful jewellery by Mr Darcy upon the birth of our son last Spring, that if he is as generous with every child, as he was with the first, I’d be happy to oft repeat the experience. Figure be damned.”
“Oh, I had not heard, how lovely, a son,” Mrs Yorke said feebly, her voice trailing off awkwardly and her eyes narrowing with jealousy.
Elizabeth bowed her head and moved towards Harriet Yorke. Her bubbly little friend asked her quickly what she had done with her very handsome husband.
“Oh, he is about somewhere. People always stop him and want to talk to him, which is odd, considering his propensity for brevity.” As she spoke, Elizabeth thought upon her words. He was quiet with other people, but with her he did speak at length, of nonsense, or important matters. When he was in the mood to talk, which was usually, oddly enough, whilst they were abed, he could be very loquacious. She had spent many a languorous morning stroking his curls and holding him to her breast while he talked to her. Sometimes, he talked so much she was driven to start kissing him just to shut him up.
Sophy Yorke joined them and squeezed Elizabeth’s hand
Elizabeth was pleased to see the Yorke sisters again. They were such pleasant, unaffected and friendly girls. She spent a good while talking and sharing remembrances with them.
“I knew you would marry him,” Sophy said. “When I saw the two of you sitting beside one another in Mollands, all those months ago, I knew it would be so.”
“Oh did you? Well I wish you would have told me! What sort of friend are you, to have let me endure weeks of agony?”
Elizabeth looked up to see Frederick Yorke coming towards them, swaying a little on his feet, blinking and sweating, with an odd little smile on his face. She excused herself from Harriet and Sophy, saying it was time she paid her respects to Lady Winslow.
Lady Winslow immediately asked her several searching questions in regards to Georgiana; her character and whether she had any prior attachments. Elizabeth had to admit there were none and as much as she usually despised matchmaking of any kind, when the Viscountess suggested she would bring her son over to meet Georgiana later, Elizabeth nodded. She had considered Mrs Mountford’s words. Georgiana had a natural reserve that many people struggled to penetrate and the girl herself seemed to have a dubious taste in men, which served her ill. If there was one scoundrel within a crowd of two hundred decent men, Georgiana was certain to find him. Perhaps a little push in the direction of The Honourable Henry Winslow would be no bad thing, for Elizabeth had met him previously and thought him a pleasant young man.
Georgiana looked confused when Elizabeth, managing to speak to her alone for a few moments, warned her of the impending introduction.
“Why does she want him to meet me?”
“Because Lady Winslow wants a daughter; preferably one she has sanctioned herself.”
Georgiana blushed and asked Elizabeth to make the gentleman known to her so she might be prepared upon his approach. It took some time for Elizabeth to find Henry Winslow in the crowd. “There he is – the tall, slim gentleman in the bright yellow waistcoat.”
“He looks very grand, Lizzy, whatever will I say to him?” Georgiana complained and worried at the sash of her dress.
“Oh, Georgiana, you are very grand, you are a Darcy, of Pemberley; he probably quakes at the thought of meeting you.”
Darcy had lost his wife. That dullard, Walter Russell, had pulled him aside in the hallway as soon as they had secured their coats. He had then proceeded to relay to Darcy, in excruciating minutiae and at such great length, the facts of a matter of which he was already very well appraised – politeness had forced him to grit his teeth and listen to the garrulous fellow ramble on and on, while he had inwardly seethed. He had been eagerly anticipating walking into Lady Winslow’s drawing rooms with Elizabeth on his arm. It was the first time they had been to London since their marriage and he was keen to present her to his general acquaintance as his bride. Yet, when Mr Russell had approached, she had carefully and cleverly extricated herself with a demure look, feigning female ignorance in current events (in fact, she was as well versed in the affairs of the day as he was – that little phony). But she had ducked her head, deprived him of her hand and was gone up the staircase with Mrs Mountford and Georgiana, before he knew how to stop her.
Now he could not find her among the crowds and every ten yards or so he was stopped by someone wishing to speak with him, much to his annoyance. Though, he did receive many words of congratulation and some surprising and pleasing compliments about his charming and lovely wife, expressed most genuinely. Over five years ago he had proposed to Elizabeth in the most insulting and vile manner – telling her most incongruously of his ardent admiration, while at the same time reminding her of her inferiority. In truth, Elizabeth did have some questionable connections and more than one relation whose manners tended towards the vulgar, but it did not seem to matter to his friends and acquaintance. They had seemingly accepted her already, long before she was ever Mrs Darcy. They had come to like her as Mrs Mountford’s niece, as well as for herself. How he had worried back then, that everyone would smirk and be scandalised at his choice of bride – he’d been a fool of the highest order.
He eventually spied her, drifting away from the company she had been talking to and glancing about the room. Was she seeking him out, as he was her? She stopped and rested her shoulders against the walls of one of the slim pillars that held the vast ceilings up. He moved quietly till he was directly behind her and leaned forward to speak in her ear. “Madam, I hope you do not find me impertinent, but I cannot keep quiet. I must speak and tell you, that of all the ladies gathered here this evening, I find you are by far the most handsome.”
“You are highly impertinent and improper, sir, and I find your claim quite difficult to believe, for I once overheard myself described by a gentleman at an assembly as being only ‘tolerable’. What do you say to that?”
“I would say it was villainy! A scandalous falsehood! I hope you took revenge on the blackguard who made such a statement.”
“I did, sir, I married him. So now I may tease and vex him for the rest of his days; he shall have not a moment’s rest from my torment. Is it not the most brilliant of plans?”
“It would be, if only your husband did not enjoy being teased and vexed by you.”
She turned then, her large dark eyes filled with mirth and her smile broad. “Fitzwilliam, where have you been? Do you know I have had to brave the Yorkes and the Bingleys without you?”
“Madam, you left me with Mr Russell.”
“Oh, Mr Russell, yes, he’s a dear fellow, but whilst everyone has the right to be dull, he does rather abuse the privilege.”
“I should say hello to Charles later, how is he?”
“Very well, I believe, but he is very concerned about Mr Yorke, who is apparently too frequently in his cups, sometimes very early in the day.”
“Tis not surprising, Elizabeth, if I were married to Caroline Yorke, I would be a most famous drunkard.”
She laughed out loud and he basked in the sweet twinkling sound.
Their attention was swiftly drawn to their hostess when a footman standing beside her rang a small bell. The Viscountess bid everyone take their seats for the upcoming entertainment, which was a performance by a famous soprano. Darcy took Elizabeth’s hand and led her to a row of chairs towards the rear of the room, where he ensured her comfort before taking his own seat. Georgiana and Mrs Mountford found them and sat in the next chairs along.
Darcy endeavoured to enjoy the music, but his equilibrium was disturbed by two young men who stood nearby. The taller of the two, who wore a bright yellow waistcoat, looked directly at Elizabeth and directed a brief nod her way, which, to Darcy’s surprise, she acknowledged with a small smile. The gentleman then began a conversation that was difficult not to overhear, both of them being deep of voice.
“Mamma is determined I should take a wife this year,” the taller gentleman confided to his friend.
“And you are not inclined?”
The young man shrugged. “I am not entirely opposed to the idea, but I despair of her taste in prospective brides. I am apparently to be introduced to yet another dreary little article this evening. No doubt she’ll be as heavily set as she is heavily dowered, and full of useless accomplishments.”
His friend laughed. “Yes, and there is not a hope of finding her even vaguely pretty. It seems a woman can either be rich, or handsome, never both.”
Darcy saw Elizabeth’s head turn quickly to Georgiana, whose face had taken on a high colour. His sister looked stricken and tears threatened to overcome her.
Elizabeth’s voice was soft and urgent. “He does not really talk of you, Georgiana, for he has never even met you.”
Though he was not exactly sure of what had happened and why his sister was so distressed, Darcy rose from his seat with purpose and squared his shoulders. “Sirs, I wonder if I might ask you to step a little further away if you wish to talk, as your conversation disturbs my family’s enjoyment of the music.” Though his words were polite, his expression was stern enough to emphasise he would brook no argument and the gentlemen offered bows, muttered their apologies and retreated to the very rear of the room.
Elizabeth squeezed Georgiana’s hand and leaned in to whisper reassurances. The girl insisted she was fine, and did seem to recover her composure and confidence before long. When the soprano had finished and was rightly applauded several times over, their hostess approached and leaned towards Elizabeth. “Tis not an enviable task I know, but someone needs to follow our most esteemed guest and take a turn at the pianoforte. Elizabeth, will you oblige us?”
Darcy looked rather proud that she had been singled out, but Elizabeth shook her head. “I thank you, but I lack the benefit of recent practice. My poor efforts to entertain your guests would only result in them fleeing your rooms with their hands held firmly over their ears. I beg you’ll excuse me, Lady Winslow.”
The Viscountess did not press her further and looked ready to move away, until Mrs Mountford stood. “Miss Darcy and I will play, Lady Winslow.” Elizabeth was shocked and more than a little angry at her aunt who was now hustling a terrified looking Georgiana towards the pianoforte. What was Mrs Mountford thinking? Georgiana was a wonderful, but highly nervous musician. She would be so embarrassed to have to play in front of such a large audience; one made up of such prominent people. Her performance would surely suffer and Elizabeth did not think she could bear to sit passively and witness her struggle through such an ordeal. However, there was nothing she could now do to prevent it without making a scene. She closed her eyes in silent prayer and found a little solace in the feel of Fitzwilliam’s shoulder brushing against hers.
“I don’t believe I have ever heard your aunt play,” he said.
“No, she does not, not in public, not anymore. I couldn’t be more astonished at her putting herself forward.”
Mrs Mountford sat down first and Georgiana stood beside her to turn the pages. The room seemed to hold a collective breath before she began, and then it mutually sighed, filling with beauty and wonder as Mrs Mountford’s fingers worked their magic over the keys of the pianoforte.
Mr Darcy listened in silence for over ten minutes, before leaning down to whisper in Elizabeth’s ear. “She really is quite remarkable.”
“Yes, she really is,” Elizabeth agreed, laughing.
Enthusiastic applause followed, and then inevitably, it was Georgiana’s turn. Mrs Mountford stood and faced her, leaning over the instrument a little and blocking much of the audience from view – so that if Georgiana were to look up while playing, she might only see a friendly face. She then bent down and whispered something in Georgiana’s ear that made her laugh and eased her awkwardness. Elizabeth, meanwhile, could feel her husband’s tension increasing as she shifted uneasily in her own seat.
Their fears turned out to be unfounded and Elizabeth threw up silent thanks to the Heavens – Georgiana played beautifully. Where Mrs Mountford had managed a complicated concerto with ease, Georgiana began a love song; a very beautiful Italian love song. She looked hardly anywhere but down at the instrument. On the rare occasions she raised her gaze, it was only to look at Mrs Mountford, who smiled back with encouragement and approbation. As she listened, Elizabeth felt relief, along with joy, pride and other emotions too numerous to mention flow through her. Yet her attention was diverted by a movement to her left. The Honourable Henry Winslow had come forward from the rear of the room (where Mr Darcy had earlier dispatched him). At first, he stood near the Darcy’s chairs. He looked intently at the pianoforte and then edged closer still, taking a few steps every half a minute or so, till he was at the front of the audience. The expression on his face made Elizabeth gasp. He looked like a man quite struck with admiration. The focus of his passionate gaze was quite definitely Georgiana; who sat, unknowingly, at the conclusion of her piece, with her head slightly bowed and her hands in her lap, demurely accepting her plaudits.
The entertainment was then suspended for supper to be served. Elizabeth and Darcy were rising from their seats when Georgiana joined them. They had begun walking, but Henry Winslow detained Elizabeth with a cough and an apologetic bow. “Miss Benn.. oh, I beg your pardon, it is Mrs Darcy now isn’t it? We have not had the chance to speak this evening, are you well?”
“Yes, I thank you. How are you this evening Mr Winslow? Did you enjoy the music?”
Though he spoke to her, his eyes were cast Georgiana’s way. “Yes, Mrs Darcy, I did, very much so, the last performance in particular. I did wonder if you might do me the honour of introducing me to your young companion, who played so very well, so very beautifully.”
His look was imploring, his hand outstretched towards Georgiana, as if his greatest wish was for her to take it in hers. She, however, gave him a look of pure disdain. A look Elizabeth would not have previously believed her capable of.
“Georgiana, this is the Honourable Henry Winslow. Mr Winslow, this is my sister, Miss Georgiana Darcy.” His bow was low and his face was flushed. Her curtsy was brief and by the time he had risen, she had turned and was walking away with Mrs Mountford.
Elizabeth put a hand on Henry Winslow’s arm. “Your mother, with her usual striking civility, called upon us yesterday, even though we had just arrived in Town. I must return the compliment, and with some expediency. I expect Georgiana and I will probably call upon the ‘morrow. Will we have the pleasure of your company also?”
The young man replied with a nod and his countenance betrayed a most ardent determination.
The rest of the evening passed agreeably enough, but as with almost all things, the anticipation of it had given more pleasure than the event itself. Earlier, Darcy had wanted nothing more than to take Elizabeth out and show her off. Now he wanted nothing more than to be at home alone with her. They left at an hour that was not too early as to appear unsociable, but not late enough to count them in with the stragglers and the drunks.
The carriage ride home was mostly undertaken in companionable silence. Georgiana made the odd comment about Henry Winslow being quite arrogant and insufferable, to which Mr Darcy nodded in agreement, Mrs Mountford smiled and Elizabeth refused to be drawn into offering her opinion.
Georgiana, in a curiously cross mood, bade them good night as soon as they entered the hall. Mrs Mountford did likewise, claiming she was a tired old lady, though in truth, she looked livelier than any of them. Elizabeth went to the night nursery. Despite being told that Master Fitzwilliam had slept undisturbed for the entire evening, she wished to see her precious boy in his slumber and assure herself of his wellbeing. Darcy was left all alone in the drawing room, where he poured a glass of port for himself and settled into a chair by the fire. He looked forward to their return to Pemberley and, for the first time in many years, he looked forward to Christmas. Two Christmases ago, he’d been widowed and dejected; sat in mournful retrospection, wondering how his life had become so empty and lamenting his mistakes and blunders.
Last Christmas had been his first with Elizabeth. He had smiled and drank and ate, attended services and appeared all that was merry. Yet, he had been sick to his stomach with fear, as with each day that passed, she had grown heavier with child. Terror that Elizabeth would not survive the birth had burned darkly within him.
In the end, she’d carried easily; walking out daily and hurrying around the house, making such changes and arrangements as were necessary. She had kept up with her duties as mistress, and with her correspondence and social calls (Elizabeth, in her own determined way, had defied convention a little by only withdrawing from society a few weeks before the babe was due). Even the onset of her pains had been without drama. They had been at dinner when she had laid down her fork and calmly instructed him to send for the midwife – in the same tone of voice she might have adopted in asking for the salt.
He had blinked and smiled, and happily helped her upstairs, but then had come two days of pure hell; two days spent pacing the halls and worrying endlessly about the lack of noise coming from her rooms. He had not gone to bed that night; sleep would have been impossible. Instead he’d kept watch on her door, while maids came and went, bringing hot water and clean bedding. Yet it had all seemed so deathly quiet and every time he’d enquired after her welfare, he would receive such a vague answer as to make his palms slick with sweat and his legs shake. When morning had broken over Pemberley and there was still no news, he had sent for a doctor. This he did against Elizabeth’s express wishes, as beforehand, she had been adamant that a midwife would be more than sufficient. However, he did not see what harm a man with a little more formal training could do, and when the physician arrived, he was welcomed by the midwife and not immediately expelled by his wife – which only served to worry Darcy more.
The morning had also brought Mrs Mountford with it, arriving in her stylish barouche and seemingly with the gift of sixth sense, for Darcy had sent no word to Oakdene. After he had relayed the details of the situation to her, he had expected she would dash to Elizabeth’s rooms. Instead she had patted his arm and poured a generous measure of port into a glass, which she then tried to press upon him. He had refused it, protesting that the hour was too early for him to imbibe. Mrs Mountford had shrugged, said ‘suit yourself’ and had drank it down in one go, before setting the glass on the table with an unladylike thud.
She had kept him company for many hours and they had talked of everything except the event happening above their very heads.
‘It is so quiet,’ he had burst out eventually. ‘Why is it so quiet’?
‘She’ll be fine, my dear boy, she is just very stoic.’ Mrs Mountford had seemed reluctant to go anywhere near the mistresses rooms, since she had not given birth herself, perhaps she had felt it was not her place, and was even a little fearful, but his repeated pleas for news had eventually spurred her to her feet and then she had disappeared for many hours. Darcy had paced some more and eventually, when night had begun to fall again, he had sat at the bottom of the grand staircase. He supposed he had fallen asleep eventually, with his face pressed against the intricate ironmongery, because when Mrs Mountford had roused him, it was light again. She had bid him follow her to Elizabeth’s rooms, where he had greeted his tiny son with a replica of the Pemberley bannisters imprinted on his forehead.
And now, a year later, another new life grew inside her; another small Darcy. This time would be different though, as he was determined not to let the next five or six months be tainted with his anxieties. He would enjoy every day with his small family, thankful for their presence in his life and their love.
Lost in thought, he startled a little when Elizabeth gently touched his arm.
“You are very deep in thought, sir.”
“Whatever was wrong with Georgiana? I don’t believe I have ever seen her so ill-tempered.”
“Henry Winslow was the matter.”
Darcy watched as Elizabeth crossed the room to extinguish one of the candles, sending the room into semi darkness “Yes, she is certainly not very keen on that young man,” he remarked.
Elizabeth smiled at him. “Of course she is. She just doesn’t know it yet. They’ll be married by summer.”
“Nonsense. Besides, from what I’ve seen of him tonight, I’m not very inclined to give my permission.”
“Fitzwilliam, I beg you to keep an open mind where Henry Winslow is concerned. You will not take against him because of a single unguarded comment, surely? As we well know, he is not the only man ever to have made such an error. Now, if we are to fight about this, my dear husband, may I ask that we save it for another day?”
They were both such strong characters; occasionally quick to temper, that arguments did inevitably occur. The first eighteen months of marriage had not been all tranquillity and harmony. Darcy remembered one particular dispute that had shaken the walls of Pemberley and sent the servants scattering into dark corners; it might even have been heard as far away as Lambton. He also remembered, with a smile, the sweetness of the subsequent reconciliation.
He reached out with strong arms and pulled her suddenly onto his lap. She gasped in surprise, but did not squirm or giggle, or act the coquette; that was not her way. Instead she put her hands on either side of his face and turned it, so she might kiss his neck. Her lips lingered for an extraordinarily long while in the crevice just beneath his ear. The feel of her warm breath against his skin and the sweet fragrance, which belonged only to her, together with the feel of her, body pressed against his, were all his undoing. Desire swept through him swiftly, sharply and his whisper had an edge of desperation about it. “Mrs Darcy, dismiss your maid, you will have no need of her tonight.”
She left her place in his lap, but enticed him to follow her with an arch of her eyebrow and an outstretched hand. “Sir, I already have.”
In the hallway, a lone young footman remained on duty. As his employers passed and bid him goodnight, Albert bowed his head and averted his eyes in a practiced manner. Though, as she ascended the stairs, he could not help but cast a cautious, admiring gaze up at his pretty mistress. Decked in her silk and jewels, she was a lovely sight. She reached the landing and turned to give the master such an intimate look, before they disappeared from view, that Albert was almost embarrassed to have witnessed it. He went to the drawing room and extinguished the fire that still burned within the grate. When he was done, he raised his eyes towards the ceiling and sighed. “You’re a lucky sod, Mr Darcy; you get to bask in her flames, and all I get to do is put ‘em out.”
Copyright @ Caitlin Williams. Not to be reproduced without the express permission of the author.