Here we go, loveys! 2 more chapters.
Pemberley, October, 1785
Samuel Wickham and George Darcy were riding along the north pastures when the dark clouds that had been threatening rain for the last two hours finally opened up and quickly soaked the men through. Darcy gestured to a barn in the distance and they began heading in that direction, briskly but carefully. They were still some distance away when there was a large bolt of lightning, bright and incredibly close. Both horses began to dance about and whinny, and Mr. Darcy’s horse reared up on his back legs, unseating his rider. Darcy was an experienced horseman, and he quickly rolled away from his frantic horse once he hit the ground. Wickham cried out, and before anyone could stop him, Darcy’s horse had bolted and was making his way back to the stables.
Wickham calmed his horse as best he could, and when the beast had finally stopped stomping and snorting, he dismounted and barely managed to tie the agitated gelding to a limb.
“Sir, are you well?” he cried. He leaned over Darcy where he lay on the ground, trying to shield him from the worst of the rain.
“I am, but my leg,” he gestured to his right leg. “Oberon kicked it a bit.”
Wickham looked at the leg with worry but was happy to see there was no unnatural angle—it was unlikely it was broken.
“Come, sir, we must get you out of the rain.” Wickham stooped low and struggled to help Darcy to his feet. George Darcy was a tall man and broad besides, and Wickham had a leg that could barely hold his own weight. He wanted to put Mr. Darcy on his horse, but the beast was still prancing and snorting nervously, and Wickham thought it was more likely he would bolt the moment he was untied than safely carry his friend.
Eventually, he was up and the two began staggering toward the barn. Both were relieved to see that George’s leg was still functioning, just badly bruised. There was a little swelling, but he was able to bear weight on it with the help of his friend. They were a hundred feet from the barn when Darcy slumped beside Wickham and suddenly Samuel was holding Darcy’s entire weight.
“Sir? Sir! Mr. Darcy! George!” he shouted his friend’s name but there was no response.
He pulled George’s head more upright and was horrified when he saw blood on his hand where it had touched the back of Darcy’s head. Quickly, Wickham reached down and tried to heft Darcy onto his shoulders, the way they had carried men in the war. The rain was strong and fast and it took him three tries to get a good grip. He moved as fast as he could on the sliding earth and with only one good leg, the rain stinging his eyes and making his clothes feel heavy and restrictive.
He slipped and stumbled and was covered in mud, but eventually, they were in the barn and out of the rain. He placed Darcy on a pile of hay and found a rag in the tack room. He blotted the blood from the back of his friend’s head, then tied the cloth all the way around his head in the hope of stopping the bleeding.
Wickham’s entire right leg was burning and throbbing, and his hip felt like someone had stabbed a knife into it. His stronger left leg was smarting from carrying the extra weight and he was starting to feel a little lightheaded from all the pain. He sat down in the hay with George until the dizziness passed.
He looked at his friend and saw that he was breathing regularly. He felt his forehead; thankfully it was not hot.
He got up painstakingly and looked out the door of the barn. “The rain won’t stop anytime soon, and you need a physician. I’ll be back,” he said to his unconscious friend.
He made his way back to his horse, limping painfully, and rode as quickly as he dared to the stables at Pemberley. In short order, a bevy of riders and a cart was sent for the master.
When Wickham tried to climb onto the cart to accompany them, the stablemaster grabbed his arm. He swayed, and the older man looked at him suspiciously.
“You’re in no position to be going out again. Someone should wait for the physician and his Lady will have to be informed. Go up to the house. I’ll send young Joseph for some dry clothes for you.”
Wickham agreed begrudgingly, but insisted he wait at the stables for his dry clothing. He would not drip all over Pemberley’s fine marble or see Lady Anne in this state. Half an hour later, he was dry and awaiting Lady Anne in her parlor.
She swept in, her pale blue dress adding to the sense of cool sophistication about her, her swollen belly the only approachable trait Wickham could discern.
“Mr. Wickham, what has happened? Lucy said there was some commotion at the stables. Where is Mr. Darcy?”
“We were caught in the storm, my lady. He was thrown from his horse.”
She gasped. “No!”
Wickham held up his hands and shook his head. “He is alive, my lady, but unconscious. Or he was when I left him.”
“His horse ran off and George was kicked. His leg was too hurt to walk far, though it didn’t seem damaged. We made it to a nearby barn, but he must have hit his head, for he fainted before we could get inside.”
Lady Anne was pale, her right hand playing anxiously with her necklace, her left resting protectively over her belly. “So you rode back to the stables for help.”
“Yes, my lady,” he said quietly.
Finally, Lady Anne looked at him and seemed to see him, not just the bearer of bad news. “Please, do be seated Mr. Wickham. You must be exhausted. I shall ring for tea.”
She rang the bell and sat stiffly across from her husband’s steward, clearly agitated and uncomfortable. Samuel wasn’t sure if it was his presence that contributed to her discomfort, or merely the situation. Regardless of her feelings about Wickham, and he knew she was not overly fond of him, she was a gracious hostess. Soon he had a steaming cup of tea in his hands and a small plate of sandwiches. He did not feel much of an appetite, even though he could hear his stomach rumbling. He realized Lady Anne must have heard it too and he blushed in mortification. It was bad enough he sat before her with wet hair and the news that he had left her husband behind in a storm, but now he was subjecting to her to the symphony of his digestive system.
He quickly took a bite of his sandwich and willed his body to be quiet.
Lady Anne looked out the window, her tea untouched, her fingers still working her beaded necklace.
Finally, when Wickham was preparing to go to the stables to check on the progress of the rescue mission, there was a commotion in the hall. Lady Anne rushed out the door of the parlor so quickly her beads spun behind her and her dress tangled around her legs.
“George!” she cried.
The unconscious man on the stretcher did not respond.
“Has he woken at all?” she asked one of the men carrying him.
“He said a few words on the way here, my lady. Mostly nonsense. He’s been drifting in and out.”
“Has the physician arrived?”
“Should be in the next quarter hour, my lady.”
The men continued their processional up the stairs and Lady Anne followed along, one hand on the railing and the other clutching her belly. He could not die! He simply could not! She needed him too much. They were having another child next month. He wanted to meet her so badly. He was certain the babe was a girl. He had suggested names. Men who were naming new babies should not die. It would be too cruel!
On her mind ran as she made her way up the stairs and down the corridor to her husband’s room.
Wickham looked at the stairs looming before him and gathered his strength. He had a hand on the bannister and had gotten up the first two steps, with a hiss of pain and his face twisted, when the butler stepped forward and asked him to please wait for the physician. He needed to check things below stairs and assure the footman were reassigned as some would be sent to the master’s chambers to assist. Wickham nodded gratefully, his hip burning so badly he couldn’t hide his discomfort. He was only glad Lady Anne was not there to see him like this. He sank into an ornate chair in the entrance hall to await the physician and prayed desperately for his friend.
“Please don’t die. Please don’t die. Please don’t die.”
Samuel stepped into the master’s chambers at Pemberley, his hat in his hand, the brim nearly ruined with his twisting.
“Stop standing there like a dolt and come where I can see you,” George called from the bed.
Samuel shook his head and took the seat by his old friend’s bed. “How are you faring?” he asked.
“I have been better,” answered George. “The physician says my leg will heal fully if I give it adequate rest.”
“I am glad to hear that. And your head?”
“I barely notice it anymore—the headaches are fading.”
Samuel nodded and smiled, his shoulders falling in relief.
George looked down at his lap, then up at his friend again. “I see you have yet to give up your habit of saving my life.”
“I would, if you would quit getting into trouble.”
George laughed soundlessly. He reached out and placed one large hand on his old friend’s shoulder. “You are a good man, Wickham. I’m proud to call you friend.”
Wickham looked down with red cheeks. “You would have done the same for me.”
“Yes, I would have. But that does not lessen my gratitude, or the valor of your actions.”
Wickham met his eyes and nodded solemnly. “I understand,” he hesitated for a moment, “George.”
Darcy’s eyes lit up and he smiled brightly. “I’m glad to hear it, Samuel. How does the new babe?”
“Your namesake does well enough. He seems to have a strong aversion to sleep,” said Wickham with a rub to his eyes.
Darcy laughed. “That will pass in time. You know you are welcome to a bed at Pemberley if you need it.”
Wickham shook his head. “You are generous, but I will be well. Rebecca is considering fostering him out. She is worn out with his care and feeding. And with no mother or sisters to help her…”
“Will her cousin not come stay? Miss Connelly, was it?”
Wickham rubbed the back of his neck and looked about the room. “I wouldn’t feel right asking her.”
George looked at his friend shrewdly. “How goes it with you and Rebecca?”
Wickham sighed. “Well enough. Little George takes all our energy. I haven’t thought of much else in some time.”
“Perhaps that is how it should be.”
Rebecca was exhausted. An exhaustion she felt in her bones. Even her hair felt tired. Nine long months of feeling fat and ungainly, followed by two days of hard labor and innumerable sleepless nights had left her feeling like she could fall asleep while standing.
Samuel had suggested a nursemaid, she had wanted both a nursemaid and a wet nurse, and they had had the money for neither. Samuel had been incredibly angry when the bill from the dressmaker arrived. His face had gone a deep red and the vein in his forehead had bulged. She thought he would humiliate her by forcing her to return those items that could be returned, but instead, he had said the bill must be paid and paid promptly, and she would simply have to economize until his next wages came in.
She had thought the most insulting thing he could do was to return her new hat. But no. Forcing her to nurse her own child was infinitely worse. Her figure would be ruined. She would never wear her favorite gowns again without looking like a flabby old woman.
He should have put the tradesmen off and hired the wet nurse. She was certain it was not half as important as he claimed it was to pay them so quickly. They must have many customers who paid late and were therefore accustomed to it. Samuel was overreacting.
Besides, if it was so important, he could ask Mr. Darcy for the money. Everyone went on and on about what great friends they were. What was a new hat or two between friends? Lady Anne must spend twenty times what Rebecca did on clothes. She was hardly frivolous! Boots were always a practical purchase. And she had needed the new spencer as her old one had faded, and the hat was so becoming on her she had been unable to resist it. Surely, when he saw her in it, he would forget all about his anger.
Alas, a month had passed, and Samuel had not forgotten. He had paid the greedy shopkeepers and refused to hire a wet nurse until they could afford to pay her. Rebecca was incensed at his stubbornness, but she was too tired to fight him properly. Finally, inspiration struck. She would take George to her aunt and grandmother’s home. The old biddies would love to spend the day holding a baby, and perhaps Rebecca could finally get some sleep.
“Let me hold my grandson,” said Abigail Appleby, reaching for the bundle in her granddaughter’s arms.
Rebecca handed over the babe gladly, sinking into the divan in exhaustion.
“You look tired,” said Aunt Connelly.
“Little George never sleeps! I am exhausted.”
“Why do you not go lie down in Rachel’s room for a spell? We shall watch over the little one.”
Having achieved her aim in coming to visit, she stumbled to her cousin’s room and fell gracelessly onto the bed, asleep within moments.
Rachel arrived home a half hour later to find her grandmother and aunt cooing over her cousin’s baby, young George Wickham. He was a cute enough baby, she supposed, but hardly worth making all this fuss over.
“Would you like to hold him?” asked Hannah Connelly.
Knowing she would appear churlish or worse, jealous, if she refused, she reached for the tightly wrapped bundle and settled into a chair by the fire. Young George was sleeping, and against her better judgement, she felt her heart reaching out to the tiny child. He was her blood after all, no matter how distant, and his mother had been something like a sister to her for the six years they had lived together. And his father had been precious to her once. It was difficult to harden one’s self to a defenseless infant, especially when the babe insisted on curling his little hand around her finger and making the most delightful noises while he slept.
Looking up surreptitiously, she saw that her grandmother had nodded off across the room, and her aunt was occupied with her sewing. She was free to indulge her fantasies. For a moment, she dreamt this was her baby, and Samuel was her husband, waiting for her at the cottage at Pemberley. The babe would be the first of many, and she would be a devoted mother, and Samuel a wonderful father.
She allowed herself the image for a few minutes longer, then forced herself to return to reality. George was Rebecca’s babe, not hers. Samuel was Rebecca’s husband, not hers. The cottage at Pemberley belonged to her cousin, not her. She should not think of such things. It would only make it more difficult to face the truth. She would never have a husband. Never have children who looked to her for comfort and reassurance. Never have a cottage of her own. There was no use pretending. It would only break her heart.
Pemberley, Derbyshire, November 1785
“Really, dear, I don’t know why you spend so much time with your steward. It is unseemly.” Lady Anne said petulantly as she settled on the sofa.
“He is not only my steward; he is my friend,” replied her husband.
“That makes it worse!” she cried.
He smiled and looked at her charmingly. “He is my oldest friend, and a truer man I challenge you to find. Have you already forgotten the service he rendered me last month?”
She shuddered. “No, I have not forgotten. Mr. Wickham has my deepest appreciation for saving your life. Did I not gift his wife with a new cradle and linens for the babe and have them to dinner to thank him? It was a very great compliment. Many stewards never enter the main dining room unless it is to deliver a message!”
George Darcy laughed. “My darling little wife.” He pulled her rigid form closer to him. “How I love you.” He kissed her cheek and rubbed her arm, smiling at her while she sat as straight as her extended abdomen would allow and stared into the fire, refusing to soften or look at him. “You are ever the great lady.” Her head whipped toward him at that. “And I love you for it. But Samuel is my friend. I will not change that, nor do I want to.”
The midwife stepped into the hallway and the physician followed her. Mr. Darcy leapt to his feet and stared at them expectantly. The midwife shook her head slowly and looked at him with pity.
“I am sorry, sir, the babe did not survive.”
Darcy closed his eyes and exhaled. He had feared that would be the outcome. Anne had been laboring for more than a day when the physician was brought in to assist the midwife. The babe was breech, and nothing they did would make it turn.
“I am sorry about the babe, sir. But Lady Anne will survive if she does not develop a fever,” said the midwife. “The babe was breech, and large besides. She should not have another for some time—allow her womb to heal.” The midwife gave him a significant look and he stared at her blankly.
The physician wiped his spectacles with a large handkerchief and said, “I’m certain you have other options.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “Though you do have a son already, so the loss would not be devastating.”
The midwife gasped and George finally looked at the strange man.
“What did you say?”
“It does not bear repeating!” cried the midwife.
The thin physician looked down his long nose at her and sniffed. “I was merely saying that the gentleman is young and could marry again or not as he chooses as he already has an heir.” He sniffed again and perched his now-clean spectacles on his nose.
George looked at him coldly. “I will see my wife now.”
The midwife said something he did not comprehend and left, taking the physician with her. George entered the birthing room quietly, shutting the door softly behind him. Anne lay in the bed, still and sleeping, and a cold breeze coming through the open window rustled the curtains gently. He wondered at its being open for a moment before the acrid smell of blood hit him. He saw his wife’s maid coming through the dressing room door and approached her.
“Lucy, how does my wife?” he whispered.
“She is well enough, sir, but her spirits are brought low,” she replied.
He nodded. “Of course.” He looked to the open window again, then back at the floor. “What has been done with the babe?” he asked, his voice sticking in his throat like a carriage wheel caught in the mud.
“Mrs. Jones took her in there to be cleaned and prepared, sir.” She pointed to the dressing room.
“It was a girl?” he asked, his voice higher than usual.
“A bonny girl, sir. I’m so sorry, sir.”
He waved her away and Lucy bobbed a curtsey before scurrying out of the room.
A girl! Anne had borne a girl! And the poor babe had not taken a single breath, nor seen a slit of blue sky, nor smelled the clean Derbyshire air after a spring rain. Choking back a sob, he sank into the nearest chair and dropped his head into his hands.
“Dearest, you must drink something,” Mr. Darcy held the glass near her face, waiting for her to open her eyes and lean forward to take a sip, but she stubbornly pressed her lips together and refused to look at him. He sighed and sat down in the chair by the bed and pressed his hand to his mouth. “Very well. We will not drink today.”
Several hours later, he awoke in an awkward position in the too-small chair. He squinted to see his wife in the dim light and was troubled to see tears tracking silently down her porcelain cheeks. Quietly, he rose from his seat and found her maid in the dressing room.
“Please bring Master Fitzwilliam here, Lucy.”
She practically ran out of the room and he went back to his wife, standing far away from the bed near the door so that she might weep without an audience. Lucy returned a few minutes later with Fitzwilliam in the arms of his nurse. When he saw his father, he reached for him and smiled brightly.
“Good afternoon, Son. Would you like to visit Mama?”
“Mama!” cried eighteen-month-old Fitzwilliam.
Mr. Darcy took his son from the nurse and dismissed her and the maid, then closed the door quietly and walked to his wife’s bedside.
“Anne, Fitzwilliam is here. Would you like to hold him?”
“Mama?” said Fitzwilliam in a small voice. He furrowed his brow and looked at her seriously, his blue eyes probing.
Lady Anne opened her eyes and looked at her son, her expression crumbling when he reached his chubby little arms out towards her. She reached forward with a sob and snatched him from her husband, pressing her face into her son’s hair and shaking with the force of her grief. Young Fitzwilliam clung to his mother, his small arms tight about her neck, until his hair was wet from her tears and she lay limply on the bed, her anguish spent for the moment.
“What are you two about?” asked Mr. Darcy jovially when he walked into his wife’s chambers. It had been over a month since the stillbirth, and she had sent for Fitzwilliam every day since her husband had first brought him to her. They were now prettily arranged on the carpet before the fireplace, stacking colorful blocks into a tall tower.
“We are building a tower, my dear. Can you not tell?” she asked playfully.
She had painted the blocks herself with her cousin, Lady Julia. It had been something of a project for them when each was expecting her first babe. Each block was a different color and had a unique picture painted on it. Some featured flowers that grew in the Pemberley gardens, others were covered with birds and foxes and various animals Fitzwilliam was learning to identify. She had spoken of painting more when she saw how Fitzwilliam loved them, with vague images of family members on them, shortly before the recent birth. He wondered if she would consider painting them still.
“Will you join us?” she asked with a smile.
“Papa! Bwocks!” cried Fitzwilliam, holding up two blocks for his father’s inspection.
“I see that, Son. A fine builder you are. Now let us see if we can create a bridge.” He sat down next to his son and they began creating a simple bridge over Lady Anne’s shawl, which was laid across the floor to look like a river.
Darcy looked up from his task to see a soft expression on her face and her eyes shining like they had not in months.
“My dear?” he questioned.
“I am very pleased to be married to you,” she said quietly.
His brows rose in surprise and he smiled. “As I am to be married to you.”
The midwife had said it would be wise to wait some time before having another babe. Her womb had been tested terribly with the breech birth; her body was tired. Allow herself to heal, a year, perhaps more, then try again. The midwife had given her a few suggestions to try to prevent pregnancy while allowing her to lie with her husband. Anne blushed furiously and could not imagine having such a conversation with him.
We may continue sharing a bed, my dear. As long as you do not spend inside me, all will be well. She was mortified at the thought. Had the physician told her husband the same? If she turned him away, would he understand her reasons? Would it harm their marriage? Would he seek comfort elsewhere?
The idea of her husband in the arms of another woman, kissing her, caressing her, making a child with her, was not to be born. Lady Anne Fitzwilliam Darcy, daughter of the Earl of Matlock and great-niece of the Marquess of Cheshire, was second to no one. She did not cower before difficulties but met them head-on. Awkward or no, she would speak with her husband.
And share him with no one.
Anne wrapped her favorite dressing gown tightly about her and knocked on her husband’s door. She stumbled and stuttered but eventually came to the point and told him that she was not averse to lying with him, was in fact quite happy to do so, in a month or so when she had healed further, so long as he was able to control himself enough to not deposit his seed inside her. Her cheeks flamed bright red and her husband looked at her with such a soft look on his dear face, his eyes unbearably tender, his mouth tilted in a gentle smile, that she felt equally touched and mortified. Her pride blanched at his pity, at being seen as a bumbling fool. But he was so very dear to her, and she was bumbling at the moment. She was grateful for his understanding, truly.
He reached out and took her hand and she let him pull her closer, until she was standing only a few inches from his body. She placed her hands on his lapels and peeked up at him. He was a tall man—terribly tall, her mother called it—but she liked it. Anne was not small herself. Thin and willowy, but taller than her friends. She liked that he made her feel less like a heron standing by a stream, all long legs and sharp angles, and more like a gracious lady. She slid her hands up to his broad shoulders and ran her fingers over the fine lawn of his nightshirt. She stepped closer, closing the tiny distance between them, and immediately felt his heat covering her.
His hands settled loosely around her waist, and she sighed and rested her head on his chest.
“I have missed this,” she said quietly.
“I have missed you.”
“Could I sleep with you tonight?” she asked before she could second guess herself.
He sighed and rubbed his face into her hair. “I should like nothing better.”
As they lay together beneath the counterpane, her head on his chest and his arm wrapped tightly around her shoulders, he stroked his hand aimlessly over her skin, drawing meaningless shapes with his fingers, gathering his courage to ask an awkward question. Finally, he found the bravery when he remembered how his wife—his delicate, proper, ladylike wife—had come to him that very night to explain how the land lay in their intimate relationship. If she could muster the courage, so could he.
“Do you enjoy sleeping with me?”
She lifted herself up on one elbow and looked down at him. “Of course, I do. Did you not know it?”
“I know you sometimes enjoy my company, especially in January when the nights are cold.”
She swatted his shoulder playfully. He caught her hand and toyed with her fingers.
“I mean, what do you think of sharing a bed every night?”
Her eyes widened and she looked at him in surprise. “You wish to sleep with me every night?”
His enthusiasm dampened at her expression. “Not if you dislike the idea.”
“No, I like it! I was merely surprised.” She looked down and fiddled with the ribbon on her nightgown. “So, would we sleep in your chamber or mine?”
He smiled and tucked her hair behind her ear. “It matters not to me. Pemberley has many rooms. Perhaps we should make a study of them all and choose our favorite.”
He smiled in that way that had always made her knees feel unsteady, and she leaned into it, kissing him sweetly on his smiling lips, then his strong jaw, already rough from the beard that never fully gave way to the razor, and a final kiss on his nose, impressive appendage that it was.
“Shall I take this show of sweetness to mean you like this plan of mine?”
“I like most plans of yours, but no, that is not why I kissed you.”
She shook her head. “Do you not know by now?”
He raised his brows in question.
“I cannot resist you when you smile at me like that, George Darcy.”
In a flash, she was beneath him, gasping and laughing as he playfully kissed her all over, from her hair down to her ankles. She smiled at him indulgently as he stroked the top of one foot, tickling her toes and smiling when she laughed.
“I can never resist you, my sweet. Whether you’re smiling or not.”
Her mirth quickly shifted to tenderness and she smiled softly at him and held out her arms. “Come here, my husband.”
“Yes, my wife.”
Anne Darcy closed the gate behind her and slipped into the graveyard, making her way swiftly to the corner with the family plots. It had been six long months, but the soil had finally settled, and a small curved stone had been placed. She set her bag on the ground and took out the trowel. She dug a small space in front of the stone, then gently removed the tiny rose bush from her sack. She settled it into the hollow and scooped dirt around it, patting it gently into place. She sat back on her heels, heedless of her clothes, and looked at her handiwork. Pink roses, for love hopeful. She touched the cold stone with her gloved hand, tracing over the name.
Rose Catherine Darcy
B. – D. November 22, 1786
She took a deep breath, stood, and dusted the dirt from her skirts. She gathered her tools into her bag and made her way back to Pemberley.
Thoughts, please! You know I thrive on comments!