The man on the galloping stallion seemed to glide across the hills. Fitzwilliam Darcy, master of Pemberley in Derbyshire, was returning home after a long day of work on the estate. The sheep were being herded to their winter pastures and the harvest was nearly all gathered in. A few more weeks and all would be settled in for the winter. He paused on top of the rise and looked down at the main house. It was his favorite view of the house with the darkening trees behind the building and the still lake in front. Lights were starting to illuminate the windows. His wife was inside, preparing for dinner. He looked forward to a calm, relaxing evening with his beloved. He kicked his horse and galloped towards the stables.
The object of his thoughts, Elizabeth Darcy, was sitting in the rose garden admiring the last flowers. She had spent the day visiting some tenants. She enjoyed caring for the families that lived on the grounds of Pemberley. The last visit was to a new mother. Mrs. Johnson had given birth to her second child, a girl, nearly 2 weeks ago. She had an older son who was nearly 2 years of age. Elizabeth had spent most of the visit cuddling the two children. The older boy seemed to be neglected just by the fact that his mother was still weak and the newborn understandably required more care. Elizabeth had brought some food and clothing for the family, as well as a toy for the boy. She had enjoyed holding the boy as he spoke his toddler nonsense about the new toy until he fell asleep in her arms. She rocked him for a little while, enjoying the feel of his warm breath on her neck.
When the curricle she had taken was a quarter of a mile from the main house, Elizabeth asked the driver to stop and walked slowly the rest of the way home. The quiet melancholy she had felt for the last few months overwhelmed her this afternoon. She and Fitzwilliam had been married for nearly 3 years and there were no babies. She loved her husband and her life. She loved her sisters and brothers-in-law and her parents. She loved her nieces and nephews. She cared deeply for the tenants and servants of Pemberley. She loved her husband beyond all telling. But, there were no babies for her and Fitzwilliam. She stopped her slow walk in Lady Anne's rose garden and sat in the center, staring at the dying flowers. It was only the subtle hint from a footman the aroused her from her reverie and sent her inside to prepare for dinner.
Since Georgiana had married nearly 18 months ago, if there were no guests or dinner parties, Elizabeth had ordered dinner be served on a small table in the music room. Fitzwilliam enjoyed the intimate setting and they both liked sitting close enough together to be able to hold hands between the courses.
After bathing and changing his clothes, Darcy went in search of his wife. He found her in the sitting room adjoining the master bedroom looking out the window.
"Good evening, my love," he said quietly and walked across the room to her side. She started slightly and looked up at him with a sparkling smile. He noted, not for the first time, that the smile did not reach her eyes.
"Good evening," she said and tilted her cheek for his kiss. She turned from the window and allowed herself to be enclosed in his arms. "How was your day?"
"Mmm," he sighed into her hair. "Very good. We have nearly all the sheep moved into the winter pastures. The harvest is going well. I believe we will be settled for winter in the next two or three weeks."
"Good. So we are on schedule for the Harvest Festival at the end of October?"
"Yes. Everything should be done and everyone will be ready to celebrate."
"Let us go down to dinner." She slipped out of his arms and moved to the door. "I believe that Cook prepared an apple tart for dessert."
"Elizabeth," he took her arm and stopped her in the hallway. "Are you well tonight?"
"Of course, darling. Just hungry. Let's go down."
Later that evening, after a delicious dinner and light chatter, mostly Darcy telling more details about his day, Elizabeth suggested retiring early. She had visited six tenant families and had travelled nearly 30 miles all told. Lately, she tired more easily. Fitzwilliam, however, had been invigorated by the day's work and was well-rested by the dinner. If they were retiring early, in his mind, sleep was not the first thing on his agenda.
Darcy quickly prepared for bed and dismissed his valet until the morning. He entered the bedroom and expected to see his wife in bed. The room was lit and warmed by the fire, but Elizabeth was still in her dressing room. He sighed quietly and went to the table and retrieved some letters that had arrived that day. He absently flipped through them, anxiously awaiting his wife. He had two great loves in his life; Pemberley and Elizabeth. He had spent the day riding over the estate. He wanted to spend the night in Elizabeth's arms.
Elizabeth combed out her hair and blew out the candle on her vanity. She tightened the belt of her dressing gown and entered the bedroom, sure her husband would already be in there and sure of what he would want. She took a deep breath and went to the center of the room.
Darcy noticed her attire - cotton and wool dressing gown belted tightly and closed up to her chin - and cleared his throat. He handed her a letter. "This came today from Jane."
"Thank-you." She sat in a chair close to the fire and opened it. Darcy laid the other letters down and picked up a book. He joined her near the fire in the other chair. He looked up when she spoke. "She asks me to come as soon as a I am able and stay until the birth. She needs help with little Charlie and wants me at her side for the delivery."
"I take it, your mother will not be present."
"I believe that is why they were invited to visit in the summer. It is too soon for Papa to make another long trip north."
"Your sister is gentle and wise." They both smiled. "When do you wish to go?"
"I don't know if I can, Fitzwilliam. The harvest is not yet in and there is the Festival to plan."
"Elizabeth, if you sister needs you, you should go to her."
"My first duty is to you and to Pemberley."
"Thank-you, love. But, we will survive and it is not like you will be too far away. Bingley's estate is only a thirty mile drive. If I need you, it will take less than a half-day's journey to get to you." He reached for her hand. "I know how important Jane is to you."
Absently, she said, "I don't know, Fitzwilliam. I need to think about it."
"Of course, love. Speak with Mrs. Reynolds and Cook. If the plans can be laid before you go, they can supervise the actual work. Hopefully, the babe will arrive before the Festival and you can attend. The tenants love you and love seeing you in such a festive occasion."
"Yes, dear. I am tired tonight. Mrs. Johnson's little ones wore me out. I think I'll go to sleep." She rose and went to kiss his brow. His arms tightened around her hips and he buried his head in her bosom. Shocked, she kissed his head again and pushed at his shoulders. He let her go. She smiled gently at him. Again, he noticed her eyes did not sparkle. "Good-night, my love."
He swallowed and examined her face a moment before replying. "Sleep well, Elizabeth." She went to the bed and climbed in, extinguishing the candles on her side. She rolled so her face was away from him and seemed to fall asleep. Darcy looked at the book in his lap and pretended to read. "This has gone on long enough, Mrs. Darcy. Tomorrow, I am getting to the bottom of this."