The Darcy's suffer a tragedy
'A tragic loss threatens to tear the happy couple asunder, but comfort and reconciliation arrives from a most unexpected source…'
Elizabeth awoke that morning to find her husband smiling down at her. She yawned sleepily and propped herself up beside him, 'And how long have you been awake sir...?' Darcy smiled at her sheepishly, 'my darling girl I don't think I slept at all.' She laughed at his unrestrained enthusiasm, 'you are like a child at Christmas.'
'And why should I not be…my beautiful wife has given me the only present I could ever wish for.' And with that he kissed her.
They had celebrated their first anniversary as man and wife the previous night, with Jane and Bingley as their guests. and as they had retired to bed, and Darcy had told his wife for the umpteenth time during that day that he loved her, she had replied in kind, by stating; she was expecting their first child. He had at first been too stunned to say anything and had just stared at her foolishly; she gave him time to absorb the news. Elizabeth sat at the dressing table slyly watching his reflection in the mirror.
He was pleased, there could be no doubt of that-but the magnitude, the significance of it all- there was to be an heir- he was to be a father. It did not take him long to respond in a fitting manner, he took Elizabeth by the arms and joyfully swung her round and round. She laughed in delight as he kissed her over and over, before sitting her down on their bed and demanding to know everything. 'Was she sure, how long had she known…was she feeling well?' The latter concerned him most- anxiety overcame joy, he was determined she should be eating and resting well, had the days' celebrations tired her, she should have told him before, he would never have allowed her to go to so much trouble.
It was at length Elizabeth finally managed to calm her husband enough to assure him of her wellbeing, and that the day had proved less of an exertion and more of a joy. They retired reasonably late after much talking, nestled safely in each others arms.
The morning sunlight brought the promise of new joy with it; Darcy sat with his head on Elizabeths' shoulder and one hand placed tentatively on her stomach. She covered his hand with her own.
'Since you are, for apparent reasons in such wonderful humour, I have some news I do not think you will find as pleasing…'
'Mmm…' he was not really listening; perhaps it was just as well.
'The remaining Longbourn ladies are to pay us a visit; they will arrive by Tuesday to celebrate our belated anniversary with us… they plan to stay for some time Darcy…'
He did not reply, she persisted, struck by the idea of mischief, 'that is my mother, Kitty and Mary will be coming…to stay…'
She could not gauge a reaction from him beyond that blissfully content smile he wore; 'Now I know that you are planning to shoot that day with Bingley, but I must insist on you not using my family as sport. I cannot speak for the others but I assure you Kitty is fairly light on her feet, even though you are a good shot.'
Darcy laughed whole heartedly at the absurdity of the picture she had painted, 'Lizzy, it will not do that you think I do not attend to your every word, I dote on them I assure you, and besides I have come to love your family, if only because they are fortunate enough to be related to you…'
'Yes, though it is a fact they could not help even if they wished to…' she sighed contentedly, Darcy kissed her cheek.
'Jane may have been first to fall in love and the first to be engaged, but I can safely say I will have bettered her on this point.'
He laughed, 'I did not realise Bingley and I were part of a sweepstake, I'm sure we are glad to have been of service.' Darcy did not question Lizzy's desire of announcing her pregnancy to her sister first; their closeness ensured it was only natural. And it explained their hushed whispers throughout the evening and the more than usually warm embrace Jane had bestowed on him as they left.
'You have been; most useful in fact Darcy, for finally settling a wager in my favour; though I am glad to say Jane assured me she will not stand to be long outdone by me!'
'Poor Bingley!' cried Darcy laughing, who understood completely before showering his wife in kisses once more.
It was the sixth month into her confinement and merely a half hour into her usual morning walk that Elizabeth began to suffer terrible abdominal pains. She had walked down towards the lake and her favourite spot and as the agony and fear struck, she doubled over and screamed in pain. It would be almost another half hour before one of the gardeners came across the now unconscious Elizabeth and raise the alarm.
There was nothing to be done, the doctor had been called as quickly as humanly possible, but Elizabeth had already lost the child. She had also lost a lot of blood and as the infant was now beyond help, all care must be passed on to her.
If the loss of a child was not cruel enough, Darcy now faced the added prospect of losing his beloved wife.
'Jane I am at a loss…I cannot think what else to do? How can I help her when she will not stand to have me in the same room?' Darcy sat in his study facing a pile of neglected mail and correspondence. It had been 5 months since Elizabeth had miscarried and five since she had left her room. The loss had devastated her- she refused to engage with the world again, spoke to no-one, ate alarmingly little and confined herself to her room and her grief entirely.
Jane felt acutely for them both, Darcy had written to her, begging her assistance, stating that despite all their hopes for her recovery, Elizabeth was slipping further.
'You must not give up on her Darcy- you cannot…however much she protests to the contrary, she is in dire need of you…you cannot, you mustn't abandon her.'
'Oh Jane – I could never do that, but you have not seen the expression in her eyes as I have every time I address her- I swear it is filled with contempt…I believe my wife hates me…'
'Darcy, you can't think that…go to her again, speak to her of this, I am sure she will not send you away,' Jane was now on the verge of tears, 'I know my sisters heart better than anyone… even when it is broken.' She broke down into sobs; Darcy was now forced to comfort her.
'I will go, and she will be well again Jane, she must…for all our sakes…'
Darcy entered his wife's room quietly; she was sat in the window seat overlooking the tall chestnuts on the gentle slope rolling down towards the river. He didn't think she'd heard him, or if she did she chose to ignore his presence.
'Elizabeth…?' He called out tentatively, she didn't respond, 'Lizzy…I must speak to you…' She would not turn to look at him and drawing up her legs pulled the blanket tighter around herself.
Her dismissal wounded him greatly, but he remembered his promise only moments earlier- he would not abandon her. He approached her slowly, 'Lizzy…please…?
Darcy sat himself in front of her and took both her hands in his own, they were cold, she did not respond when he squeezed them gently. Her eyes kept resolutely to the view outside her window.
He was at a loss, 'This is not my Lizzy- this is not the girl I married, she would never have given in to such despair…' he held up her hands to make his point. Still nothing, he rose to leave reluctantly and was about to relinquish her touch when she snatched her hands away from him in rapid force. And there was that look, the one he had described to Jane- his wife hated him. Elizabeth's eyes were rimmed red and swollen from all her crying- but they shone now with a flash of intense passion and fury.
'The Lizzy you describe- knew nothing of this pain, the loss of a child…'
'Not only your loss- do you think I feel it any less, I have lost a child as well Lizzy..', he cupped her chin both her hands and brought his face close to hers, 'and now I fear…I am losing my wife as well.'
She looked at him a long while, and for a brief moment Darcy thought she had softened and would answer all his hopes. But she turned away, 'I wish you to leave…'Darcy bowed his head, shut his eyes against the encroaching darkness, and silently rose to leave, to obey his wife's wishes as he had always sworn to do.
The look of hope with which Jane greeted him at the foot of the stairs was too much to bear, he pressed her shoulder as he brushed past her and she knew he had failed. She heard him call for his horse and the next moment leave the house.
Jane's efforts would prove no more successful than Darcy's had been. She took up her work with her; Elizabeth had not spoken more than a mere few words to anybody, including herself. She would need something to occupy her as she waited…though she vowed she would endeavour to be patient.
As Jane entered she briefly hoped and thought her sister had at last left the room, until she spied the frail figure huddled under coverlets of the bed. Upon seeing her, Elizabeth turned aside; Jane sighed deeply and taking up a place on the far side of the room directly facing the bed, took up her needlework.
They stayed this way for a long while, with Jane sewing stitch after stitch, and Elizabeth as resolutely quiet as ever. The situation however was wrought for a change and perhaps, out of sympathy for her sister or because Elizabeth had at last realised Jane was in no hurry to leave, she rose up and out of the bed; Jane dared not move.
Elizabeth made her way over to the dressing table and sat down, she looked at herself in the mirror, Darcy was right- this was not the Lizzy he had married, in every aspect. Her face was pale and drawn, dark rings circled her eyes and her hair. She took up a brush in a vain attempt to tame the bedraggled mien.
'How is Fredrick, Jane…? I must wonder at your leaving him entirely to a nurse at such a young age…' Jane had not stood to be long outdone by Elizabeth, and within a month of the Darcys' announcing their happy news the Bingleys' were able to add theirs. Only Jane had given birth to a healthy, happy baby, now two months old.
Jane fought back tears, 'Oh Lizzy…' She hurried to her but Elizabeth held up her hand in an emphatic gesture- 'I ought to have sent something, I am afraid I have been quite neglecting my duties as an aunt. Jane, forgive me…'
Never could have more sorrow been breathed into words than Elizabeth uttered in those last two. All her resolve now gave way to her grief as she broke down in a fit of tears. Jane, as ever was ready with sisterly comfort, love and devotion and rushing to her enveloped her in a soothing embrace.
'My poor, dear girl, you have nothing to be sorry for, this was no fault of yours…'
'He was my child, Jane I ought to have protected him, he depended on me…and he was so beautiful. Oh, Jane I wish you could have seen him…'
'I'm sure he was Lizzy…' Jane bit her lip to stop from crying out loud, 'but surely you cannot blame yourself for this tragedy…it was not meant to be…'
Elizabeth let out an exasperated moan, 'Oh, if one more person tells me that it was not meant to be, I swear I shall scream!' she spat angrily at her sister.
Jane could only stare; stunned at the sudden energy of this outburst… there was more to come.
'What a comfortable, convenient bandage to place over the whole sorry affair, 'it was not meant to be'- are such words meant to soothe, console? Tell me Jane, exactly who am I to be angry at if it was only 'not meant to be'…providence, fate…God?'
'Forgive me Elizabeth; you must know I could only ever mean well…of course I could never know what you suffer…'
'No, you cannot Jane…' she turned back to her reflection in the mirror.
'But I cannot help but feel your anger; your blame has no place, certainly not with those who love you…'
Elizabeth of course knew she meant Darcy, her features hardened once more, 'I cannot explain this resentment…misplaced as it is, I cannot dislodge it Jane, however much I wish to.' She met Jane's sympathetic gaze in the mirror. 'I only know that when I blame him, the pain…I feel it less.'
'You are not coping old friend and it pains me to see it…' Bingley had joined his wife at Pemberley when it was decided Elizabeth was in much more dire need of nursing than they had anticipated. Their child Fredrick was left to the attentions of his nurse and doting Aunt Caroline, it would have been impossible to have an infant at Pemberley, his crying and mauling would quite possibly be the final element in fatally tipping Elizabeth's failing and sorely tried mental fragility.
Darcy could not stand to be in the house, he could not bear to be far from Lizzy either, and so in consequence spent his days in abject limbo, wandering the grounds as a man possessed. Bingley had joined him that morning.
He had seen Darcy like this once before and had asked him then the reason for his despondency, he had dismissed it then as being nothing more than the onset of a particularly bad cold; but Darcy had later confided in him months later, the truth. The reason for his haggard, depressed looks had been the result of Elizabeth's first rejection of his marriage proposal. Now that weariness and sorrow about him had returned, and Bingley could ascertain that this time it was worse.
'No Bingley… I am not coping, in truth I am spent…this sorrow,' he sighed deeply, 'it is a heavy weight on my chest…and throughout I am wracked with guilt, Lizzy bore our child for six months, if anyone has the right to such grief it is her…'
'You cannot punish yourself for mourning…Lizzy cannot monopolise grief…'
Darcy paused and shook his head, 'if it is a burden she will only share…I wish nothing more than to have my wife returned to me Bingley, selfish as it may seem. But it appears to be impossible…Lizzy is further away from me than ever…'
Unbeknown to him, even as he was pouring out his heart to his closest friend, the other significant lady in Darcy's life was making a surprise appearance in front of a startled Jane. She had watched the great carriage roll up to the house and held her breath as the great Lady Catherine de Bourgh herself entered with all her usual commanding air. She had refused to attend her nephews' marriage and had only previously visited Pemberley once after Elizabeth had become its mistress; consequently this was the first Jane was seeing of this great lady, oft spoken of and rarely in flattering tones.
Elizabeth had told her of Lady Catherine's stately presence and its unnerving ability on the easily bowed, but even prepared as she was Jane could not help but be a little overawed.
She found her voice at last, 'Lady de Bourgh…'
'Mrs Bingley we have little time…' Lady Catherine interrupted with all her usual politeness, 'I suppose you may be at a loss to account for my sudden appearance here…'
'Not at all…'
'Especially given the way things stand between my nephew and me, his welcome I suppose would be, although all politeness less than welcoming…'
Jane was embarrassed, a truer picture could not have been painted, 'I would not know…'
'Well then perhaps in that case he need not know of my visit…? At least till after I have left…'
'Lady Catherine…I do not know how you expect me to conceal it…'
'It is all very well, I have ascertained from one of the servants Darcy is about the grounds and unlikely to return for the next few hours at least, it is more than enough time…'
'Forgive my impertinence ma'am but enough time for what..?'
'To speak to your sister of course…' Lady Catherine spoke so matter of factly that Jane was at first rendered speechless.
'But Lady Catherine my sister is unwell…and quite unable to receive visitors…'
'Mrs Bingley, I have always had the highest regard for your husband, and was pleased to hear he had chosen a prospective bride whose sensibility and steadiness were well known, it was exactly as I would have expected from him. Now may I ask you to exercise some of that sensibility and take me to your sisters' chamber…it is the best thing you will be doing for her I assure you…'
Had Jane any doubts remaining, they were done away with the earnest, determined look in Lady Catherine's eye. She resigned; almost everybody else had tried and failed to reason with Elizabeth, what was one more?
'Very well ma'am, if you would be so kind as to wait here, I will prepare my sister for your arrival…'
'No…!' Jane stopped in her tracks, Lady Catherine's booming voice rang out across the room, 'You cannot 'prepare her', Mrs Bingley I am as much acquainted with your sisters' character as I could ever wish to be; there is a stubbornness about her that, although I despise, know well enough to be sure that she will refuse point blank to see me. And that will render my trip a waste…something I am not likely to be pleased about…no, you will show me to her room if you please. You will leave us there alone and ensure that we are not disturbed.'
Jane took instruction as if she were a small child; she showed Lady Catherine to Lizzy's room, opened the door for her and left the two women alone.
'Miss Bennet…?' Lizzy was in her familiar place, in the window seat. She too had watched Lady Catherine's arrival though with significantly less surprise than Jane; indeed she had anticipated such a visit and only wondered at it being delayed this long.
She smiled at the address, it was part of Lady Catherine's pointed rebuff, and the way she continued to assert her disapproval over the marriage by pettily assuring that she would never acknowledge Lizzy to be a Darcy.
'Lady Catherine…' Lizzy turned to face her but did not rise from her place.
'You do not seem surprised to see me here…' Lizzy's abject calm was the last reaction she was expecting.
'I am not…I am only surprised at you're having restrained yourself this long…'
Lady Catherine did not care for the insolent tone in Lizzy's voice, though she ought to have been overly familiar with it by now.
'I must ask what you mean by such a remark….'
'Only that you have never cared for our marriage, and never been short on vocalizing you're disapproval; you must see this as divine justice…you are of course aware of our current situation…'
'I have heard something of it yes…'
'Then perhaps you are mistaken…you have taken a wrong turn about the house and quite ended up in the wrong room. Perhaps you have come to condole your nephew, berate him on his poor choice of wife and how he may have done better had he only heeded your advice…'
Lady Catherine refused to rise to the bait, 'You must have a poor opinion of me indeed, if you think I have come to crow in the time of your suffering, I will not pretend to be affronted and wonder where such a reproof has been formed.'
Lizzy smiled and turned away; Lady Catherine had been all too oft in general to use these seemingly selfless speeches, Lizzy had seen it all before when she had in turns tried to coax and then threaten Darcy from marrying her.
'But you are mistaken…' Lizzy looked up, surprised to see Lady Catherine stood directly in front of her, 'I know something of the pain you suffer…'
She perched herself delicately next to Lizzy, 'Do you think you are the first woman to lose a child or that you will be the last…'
Lizzy chose not to answer. Lady Catherine walked to the other side of the room, she stood in front of the fireplace and spoke in a tone so hushed Lizzy had to strain to hear to it.
'I was not always this cold or so hard, Miss Bennet time and circumstances have rendered me indifferent, the loss of two children in childbirth may go some way to account for my severity…' Lizzy turned to her wide eyed.
'Yes Miss Bennet, I lost two children. So you see, as much as you would hate to admit it, you and I are not so entirely different…'
'No…' Lizzy raised a sceptical brow, 'and you are quite right I would hate to admit it…'
'Enough!' Lady de Bourgh's voice thundered across the room, 'Enough of this insolence, selfish, unfeeling girl to make others suffer as you do. You cannot know how fortunate you are, surrounded by those who love you, who are willing to abandon self and family to attend to you, without acknowledgement, without thanks…'
'Such a pretty, passionate speech ma'am, I wonder, did you take the trouble of practicing it beforehand, on your nephew perhaps….
Lizzy was on her feet as well now, and the two ladies were almost shouting at each other. But at least Lizzy was returned; however long it would prove to last Lizzy was back, to the girl she had met that summer, the one which had in turns impressed and disdained her with her conceited independence. It was a welcome return; Lady Catherine smiled and faced down the confrontational Lizzy.
'My nephew knows nothing of my being here, nor do I think I would be made anymore welcome by him…' Lady Catherine walked a little towards her.
'There is a difference between us Miss Bennet, my husband was not as supportive or as loving, or devoted as Darcy evidently is with you…' she sighed heavily and was obviously speaking with some difficulty, 'Sir Robert de Bourgh was not as intent on an heir as myself, his attitude towards losing our two children was indifferent at best, and then when all hopes were given up of bearing a child…I believe he sought his gratification elsewhere. You cannot know what a blessing it was to finally have Anne, and then she is so sickly a creature, I lived with the torment of not knowing if she would survive. And yet I endured all this Miss Bennet without support, without comfort…without his love.'
Lizzy was struck; the sincerity in Lady de Bourgh's voice could not be doubted.
She, convinced she had at last made her point prepared to leave. With her hand on the door she turned to offer a final word.
'Miss Bennet grief takes many forms, some more destructive than others…I was unfortunate enough to be married to a man who did not care less… you would be foolish to lose one who cared too much.'
And with that she was gone.
Darcy stood on the small bridge watching the river dance and swirl beneath him. They had paused there and had been about to move on until a servant had arrived with a bequest from Jane for her husband to return to the house directly. Bingley went at once leaving Darcy to contemplate if he would ever again receive such a summons from his own wife.
So filled was his head with thoughts of her, he did not hear the step of light feet until they stopped directly behind him.
'I am a selfish creature Mr Darcy and for the sake of relieving my own feelings care not how much I may be wounding yours…'
Darcy turned slowly afraid the words were sounding in his head, they were not. There stood his wife, his Lizzy, only a few steps away and not hiding in that wretched room. She smiled and he thought his heart would break.
'I know I used those words once before but I don't believe they have ever carried so much significance…forgive me…I am such a coward…'
'No…' Darcy shook his head sympathetically.
'Yes, to push you away…hurt you the way I have…I'm so ashamed of myself…'
'I would have borne anything…'
Lizzy stepped closer to him, 'Yes…I know…you are too good for me…'
'That could never be true…' he opened his arms and his heart again stepping into them without hesitation, she wrapped herself around him. Secure, safe and loved as she always had been, nestled in that place solely hers alone.
She rested her head on his chest and spoke softly, 'I thought if I kept myself angry at you, kept you at a distance, the pain of it all would be further away as well. I could not bear the thought of having disappointed you…losing our child. Oh Darcy, I remember how happy you were…'
'You could never disappoint me…and I promise you we will be that happy again.' He lifted up her chin as he spoke, and looked into those remarkable eyes brimmed with tears. He kissed her, brushing her lips gently.
Lizzy you cannot know how glad I am…I despaired of ever holding you this close again…'
Lizzy stepped back, and taking his hand in her own kissed it fervently, holding it to her cheek.
'I do not know if you will believe me…but we have your Aunt to thank for that…'
'My Aunt…?' Darcy exclaimed incredulity.
'Yes…as hard as it is to believe, she came to see me and left not half an hour ago. 'She made me see how cruelly I had been behaving, towards you and my family, and how selfish I was being…Darcy I believe we have been wrong about your Aunt, or at least too hard in general. She has a generous soul, though she takes pains to hide it, and has suffered herself a great deal in the past…'
Darcy still had trouble making sense of it, 'Lizzy, you do mean my Aunt, Lady Catherine…?'
Lizzy laughed gently, 'Yes, I know of no other…'
'Well then I suppose I have much to thank and be grateful to her for…'
'Yes we both do…we ought to make more of an effort…' Lizzy sighed softly, and in so doing wrapped herself around her husband's broad chest once more.
He kissed the top of her head, 'we ought to be getting back …this will be the longest you have been out of the house in a while…you will be tired…'
'No…' Lizzy shook her head vigorously and enclosed her arms tighter about his waist, 'I have been too long starved of the man I love…I do not intend to waste another minute…'
She reached up and bringing his face close to hers, whispered, 'My darling Darcy…' and kissed him deeply.