In Want of a Wife
By S. Faith, © 2011
Words: 82,705 (in 14 chapters + Epilogue) / This part: 1,524
Rating: T / PG-13 (some chapters a stronger T than others)
Summary, Disclaimer, Notes, Style Note, etc.: See Chapter 1.
Epilogue: In which the last difficulty is overcome.
Wednesday, 21 June, 1815
Lady Darcy assured her son that all was going quite normally, at least as normally as things got for Bridget. She had been defiant in her supposed confinement, getting up and taking walks around the house and, when it was pleasant enough, the park. This raised the ire of the maids charged with caring for her, Mrs Bosworth, her mother and, of course, Darcy.
"I will go mad with such lack of activity—I am not an invalid and I grow bored with this latest novel you have for me," she said from her position on the bed, pointing to her copy of Mansfield Park on the bureau beside her. "Aside from the pressure prompting more frequent calls to the chamber pot and a bit of back pain, I am fine. At least may I try the harp? I would just be sitting there, plucking."
Darcy pointedly lowered his eyes toward the very rounded stomach of his wife, then raised them again. "Do you really think you could?"
She looked down, too, then sighed. "I suppose you are right," she said resignedly. "Terribly inconvenient, this bump."
He smiled, reaching for her hand and squeezing gently; they had taken to referring to the little one as 'the bump'. "There is always your baby bonnet embroidery."
She sighed again. "Perhaps I can get Becca to finish. She has a nice chain stitch. My fingers are so swollen and tender…"
"And you wanted to play the harp," he began, but stopped when the pressure increased significantly on his hand and her face went white. "What is it?" he asked.
She did not say anything, only furrowed her brow.
"Are you in pain?" he asked. "Do I need to have the doctor fetched?"
She looked to him, blinking twice more. "Yes," she said calmly. "I think so. I appear to have sprung a leak."
Instantly he became alarmed and ran to the door, calling for his mother, who came into the room in a flash. When he explained the situation, she did not seem afraid at all.
"Oh, Mark, this means it is time for the midwife," she said with a gentle smile. "I will have Peter get her right away, and have Molly bring some things for the birth."
When she departed, Darcy went back to her side and clasped her hand. "It appears you shall not be bored for much longer," he said. "This is—"
As he spoke she bore down on his hand with a crushing clasp as she cried out, this time in obvious pain. "I take your meaning," she said through gritted teeth, gasping for breath as the pain passed. "The bump shall be a bump no more, and with a bare head at that."
He chuckled, though was feeling distraught that there was little he could do for her. "If I could take the pain for myself…"
"I shall consider it part of the experience," she said. "Part of the miracle of life."
A short time later Lady Darcy and Molly arrived, the latter with a stack of towels upon her forearms. "Peter has gone," she said, "and when the midwife arrives you will need to leave."
He knew he would, though he did not like the idea. "Is there anything I may do?"
"Hand me one of those towels," said Bridget, "then stay here with me until she arrives."
The midwife came in due time and as expected ushered Darcy from the room. It did not please him to sit outside the door and listen to her howls of pain when there was nothing he could do to help. The Joneses also arrived—Peter must have gone for them, as well—and in silence the gentlemen sat waiting for the baby to come while Mrs Jones went in to be with her daughter.
Darcy did not bother to look at the time; five minutes felt like hours and would continue to do so until he had word from inside the room. He strained to listen for something, anything, to indicate her labour was over, but there was nothing but cries for what seemed like far too long. He sat back against the chair's wings and closed his eyes, praying that the birth would be a quick and easy one for her.
He looked up to see his mother. He did not remember her coming out of the bedroom at all, but he realised now that the sun had dropped below the horizon, that it was now evening. He did not think it possible that he could have fallen to sleep, but he seemed obvious he must have. Without hesitation he was on his feet. "What news is there?"
He could see tears in her eyes, and for a horrible moment he thought something had gone wrong; until, that is, he saw the smile on her face. "You have a son."
Relief and joy washed over him, but only for a second—
"And Bridget?" he asked, suddenly fearful again.
"She is resting," she said, coming forward to take his hand. "She did very well. You would be proud."
"May I go to her?"
"She wants very much to see you," said Mrs Jones, who came from the bedroom next. "I would keep it brief, sir. She needs to rest."
"I defer to your expertise in this matter," he said, taking her hands next and bending to kiss her cheek, which visibly surprised her; in fact, he may never have done such a thing before, so the surprise was warranted.
Slowly he pulled the door open then went into the room. It was dim save for reflected moonlight but the air was thick with the smell of recently extinguished lamps; the ambiance of the remaining candlelight reminded him oddly of their wedding night. He stood at the side of the bed and gazed down where she lay. Her eyes were closed, hear breath was slow and steady; her hair was damp and sticking to her face, and her skin had the sheen and pallor telling the tale of the exertion she had just endured. To his left, the midwife sat rocking in a chair with a little bundle in her arms, and before waking his wife he went over to this pair. The woman—whose name he realised to his chagrin he did not even know (or at least remember)—looked up to him with a beatific expression.
"He is a beautiful child," she said very quietly. "Very healthy."
"May I see him?"
She drew back the blanket from the baby's head to reveal a surprisingly hearty tuft of dark hair, a round little face and rose petal lips. It was as much as he could see given the child's closely wrapped swaddling. Darcy brought his hand to his mouth without thinking, feeling very emotional. "He is beautiful," he agreed softly, tears filling his own eyes.
"Mark, is that you?"
He turned to see her eyes were open, and as he looked upon her he saw a smile spread over her lips. Instantly he went to her, sitting upon the bed, taking her hand.
"I recall our sitting like this just before everything really began today," she said, her voice a testament to her exhaustion, but her jesting tone a testament to her spirit.
"Yes," he agreed. "It is all over now. Our son is well and sleeping."
"Oh, yes, a son," she said. "I meant to say. I insisted upon holding him and he fed a little but…" She yawned, then winced a little. "I recall you saying if you could only take the pain—"
"I would without hesitation," he said. He squeezed her hand then leaned to kiss her briefly on the mouth. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Mm, yes," she said sleepily. "I want to see my father, and Jamie and Peter too." He heard the midwife make a clucking sound of disapproval. "Then I would like for you to read to me."
"Read to you?" he asked. "Read what?"
She lifted her heavy lids and smiled. "Lord Byron."
He smiled, then nodded.
As she visited briefly with her male kin (both by blood and through marriage), he went in her boudoir to find the volume she liked best. It sat by her daybook, which she had carelessly left open again. The light of a very full moon flooded her desk and set the sepia ink starkly against the white of the page, and betraying him his eyes skimmed over the page.
What he read there, written only the day before, made him smile.
Have just gotten word that Napoleon has again been defeated and will trouble us no more. I shall still rely on Mark, however, to defend me from any remaining spies. Well, us. What we shall call the little bump… if a girl, truth be told I have not given it much thought, because secretly I believe the bump is a boy—
It shall be nice for there to be a Malcolm Darcy in the world again.