The past several months have seen some drastic changes in the King household. We sold our house, our vehicles, and put our stuff in storage and headed to Ecuador to live next to our daughter Jennifer and her family. Pretty drastic, huh?
My desk is now set up and (as of yesterday) we have Internet that works. Therefore, I am writing again. However, I am taking my time with this story. You might be able to imagine the hours I’m chewing on the little details as Darcy and Elizabeth plot their course. The secondary arc to this story involves the ever-wonderful Colonel Fitzwilliam. Sigh!
I wrote chapter four of “A Baby for Mr. Darcy” right after I posted the first three. I’m now way past that point. But I had a reader ask for more so here is chapter four. (Please remember – this is a ROUGH draft only!!!!) NOTE: I do not plan on posting as I write. I don’t want to take the time. Although I’m trying to take my time, this story is pushing me hard.
The change to Elizabeth’s composure enlightened Darcy that keeping information from her was not wise. It had not been his intent to be secretive. In fact, he had thought he was unusually forthcoming. But, what did he know?
He watched as she stepped in and took charge.
“Mrs. Milford, pray accept my condolences for your own loss. That you were willing to attend Mrs. Fitzwilliam and agree to this task when your heart was distressed tells me much about the type of woman you are. Thus, I offer you my friendship and assistance.” Elizabeth rested her hand on Mrs. Milford’s arm for a brief touch. “May I?”
When Elizabeth lifted the baby away from the wet nurse, Darcy witnessed something so profound, it hit him in the chest, almost robbing him of breath. While a peaceful contentment settled on Elizabeth’s face at having the infant in her arms, agony creased Mrs. Milford’s brow as all color leached from her face at having to let little James go to another.
Richard would not be the only one to suffer from this arrangement. Elizabeth, and most likely himself, would get deeply attached to the babe. Mrs. Milford too. Georgiana as well. The joy they should feel when his cousin was finally able to return from Spain to take up life as a father would be dampened by the pain all of them would feel at the loss of the child.
Moving away from the women to the fireplace, Darcy pondered what would be best for all. Nothing came to mind. In frustration, he spoke more abruptly than he had intended.
“Perhaps it would be best for Mrs. Milford to have the baby. He may need her services.”
He wanted to slap himself. That was not what he had intended to say, nor the way he had meant it to be uttered.
The surprised expressions worn by both women was not one of pleasure.
“Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth’s voice, while muted to keep from startling the child, was pointed, as was the fierce expression in her eyes. “A small infant like your nephew needs to be kept warm. Would you see that a basket lined with warm bricks and blankets is provided before we continue our journey? Can we trust that you will see this done at each stop…sir?”
Her chin lifted with her final word.
He felt the snap of her words in his gut. Deciding retreat was the better part of wisdom, He bowed to the women and left the room.
Elizabeth watched her husband walk from the room. Shaking her head in disbelief, she gave her attention to Mrs. Milford.
“Let us dispense with formality, Abigail.” Elizabeth gestured toward two chairs in from of the fire as soon as Mrs. Milford nodded. Once they were seated, Elizabeth began a necessary discussion. “Tell me, please, about Colonel and Mrs. Fitzwilliam. What sort of parents would they have been?”
“Dear, sweet Anne was a gentle soul with no pretentions of grandeur like her mother. She yearned for nothing more than a simple life with her husband and child.” A small smile lifted the corners of Abigail’s lips. “She had a wicked sense of humor and loved nothing more than to turn it on the colonel. I will mourn for her as I do my own daughter.”
Her last comment hurt Elizabeth’s heart. The losses this poor woman has faced.
“And, the colonel?”
“In looks, he is much different than Mr. Darcy. However, they have the same air of command about them. The colonel has a ready smile. He delighted in the foibles of others, finding reasons to laugh where he could. Nonetheless, when in front of his troops or when Lady Catherine or Lord Matlock contacted them, he cared far more for what was right than their positions. He could be fierce.”
“You saw this?”
“I did not, Mrs. Darcy…I mean, Elizabeth.” She inhaled, then let the air out slowly. “The day before little James was born, Colonel Fitzwilliam shared that Lady Catherine had come with four stalwart men intent on removing Anne from their quarters. She said it was no place for a lady and no proper place for her grandchild.” Abigail wiped the tears running from her eyes. “Anne loved living there. The colonel had decided he would take a townhouse close to the barracks so she would be more comfortable, but Anne insisted they remain.”
“You will miss her dearly, will you not?”
“I cannot begin to tell you how much I respected Anne Fitzwilliam. She stood up to her challenges with a quiet dignity that should have put Lady Catherine to shame.” Another smile crossed Abigail’s lips. “Anne said that the colonel picked up his mother-in-law by her arms and marched her out the door, slamming it behind her. I was not in the room while this display took place although I could not refrain from hearing the confrontation. Both Anne and the colonel apologized to me for any upset instead of worrying about their own emotions. They truly were and are the best of people.”
“I regret I will never meet Mrs. Fitzwilliam,” Elizabeth genuinely offered. “Even more, I regret she will never know her son.” Instinctively, she pressed her lips to the baby’s forehead. “He is a beautiful child.”
“If he is at all like his parents, he will be a happy baby,” Abigail offered, her eyes on the bundle in Elizabeth’s arms.
“Abigail, we need to think about the arrangements the colonel made with Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth mused, her mind spinning with the situation confronting them. Before she could continue, Mr. Darcy returned, stepping quietly into the room.
Ignoring him, Elizabeth said, “there are too many people who know I was not increasing to pretend the baby is mine, Abigail. In addition, I have known Mr. Darcy for a total of eight weeks. Another pertinent fact is that I do not have the physical features of one who is recently delivered of a babe. Therefore, to fool the colonel’s family, another explanation for having a newborn in our house will need to be made. Do you have any ideas?”
“Nothing is coming to me, Elizabeth. However, the events of the past few days seems to have robbed me of my sense.”
“Do not fret,” she reached over to pat the other woman’s arm. “I have no fear we will not come to the correct conclusion if we talk this out.” Elizabeth paused, reflecting on all Mrs. Milford had revealed. “Does Lady Catherine or Lord Matlock know who you are? Would they recognize you as a friend and companion to Mrs. Fitzwilliam?”
“No, I cannot imagine they would for two reasons,” Abigail said. “I was never introduced nor was I ever in the room with them at the same time. As well, neither of them would have noticed me had I been. I am far below them in status.”
“Might I participate in this discussion?” Mr. Darcy interjected, as he walked closer to them. Pulling up a chair, he placed it close to Elizabeth’s. “In all honesty, in my need to follow Richard’s instructions to the letter, I was consumed with gaining you as a wife. I had not thought of how best to present Richard’s son in our lives. In my arrogance, I believe I figured the news I was off the marriage mart would divert gossips interest away from a baby.”
Elizabeth was shocked he was not telling them what and how to think. The Mr. Darcy in her mind would never tolerate not having sole control of any situation.
“Sir, I do not believe it is the gossips we need to focus upon,” Elizabeth had no difficulty unsettling the man who had changed her life forever. Thinking to test his limits, she shifted towards him, extending the baby for him to hold.
What happened next will be imprinted on Elizabeth’s mind for her lifetime.
Mr. Darcy’s arms instinctively reacted, reaching for the infant. Using his teeth to quickly tug off the glove from his right hand, once his nephew rested in the crook of his left arm, he tenderly ran the tips of his fingers over the soft baby skin. Within seconds, the cloths were unwrapped as Mr. Darcy inspected first one skinny, wrinkly foot and then the other. Tenderly, his thumb caressed the back of each toe, causing the baby to stir.
When the man lifted a baby foot to his lips, Elizabeth’s heart melted like a wax candle next to a flame.
Her eyes shot from her husband’s lips to his eyes. What she read there was…it was heartrending. Pain of loss melded with awe. Joy mixed with wonder. Behind it all was a love so intense it hurt Elizabeth to see it. This man would be a fierce protector, a warrior.
How could Elizabeth not have seen this before? Why had the man not revealed himself so she could have discovered reasons for admiration rather than disapprobation?
She was without a clue.
Surveying the scene, Elizabeth saw that while her eyes had been on Mr. Darcy, Abigail’s watched the baby like a hawk. Apparently seeing the same, Mr. Darcy cleared his throat then handed the infant to the wet nurse.
Standing, he said, “we need to distance ourselves from here. The sooner we arrive at Pemberley, the sooner we can hide young Jem from prying eyes.”
Nodding, both women prepared to depart. When the maid entered the room with a large woven basket, they fussed over the arrangement of the bricks and blankets until both they were satisfied the baby would be warm and comfortable.
Whispering so others could not hear, Elizabeth settled some details with Mrs. Milford that eased her mind.
Leaving the inn, Elizabeth was unsurprised to find a smaller basket bearing foodstuffs, warm bricks for her feet, and heavy blankets folded on the seat next to where she sat. While Parker had helped Abigail and the baby into their carriage, Mr. Darcy had performed the task for her.
They had not been on the road but a few minutes when Mr. Darcy inquired about the two lady’s private conversation.
“Sir, your valet is a stranger to Abigail, and she is a stranger to him.” Elizabeth swallowed, uncomfortable with sharing the topic. When Jem is hungry, it can be difficult to provide relieve without some level of exposure. I merely inquired as to her comfort.”
“I see,” Mr. Darcy gazed out the window, his hands tightly squeezing the seat cushion on either side of him, betraying his disquietude. “Her reply?”
Elizabeth smiled, “She claimed Parker is a deft hand at changing nappies while the carriage is moving. He does not hesitate to offer his services to keep Jem dry and to rub the baby’s back after feeding. As to privacy, he turns away as soon as the infant fusses so there is nothing Abigail says she lacks.”
“I am pleased to hear this,” Mr. Darcy looked back at her briefly at his comment. “And you? Are you comfortable here? With me?”
She had no idea how to answer. Of the many facets of Mr. Darcy’s character that she had discovered, uncertainty was new. His eyes, those silent orbs that revealed so much more than he had ever said, told her much about the man.
Based on what she knew in Hertfordshire, she had judged him correctly. He had acted abominably to many, not just herself. Thus, the general attitude of her neighbors was that Mr. Darcy was above company. No one wanted to spend time with him as he withdrew from them.
When Mr. Wickham told her how Mr. Darcy had denied him the living promised by the senior Mr. Darcy, it was easy to feel disdain for the man across from her. It was a despicable thing to do to a former friend and companion, speaking of an underlying meanness Elizabeth could not understand.
Yet, his actions since they first stepped into the carriage at Longbourn had been that of a stranger. He looked like Mr. Darcy. He sounded like Mr. Darcy. But he acted like someone she had never met before.
“You are awaiting my reply, I suspect,” Elizabeth looked directly at him.
He nodded. “I confess I was wrong in my estimation of how you felt about me form the time we met until this morning. I am guessing that reading Richard’s letter and speaking with Mrs. Milford has eased your mind somewhat. Nevertheless, I no longer will assume anything about you, Elizabeth. I would hope you would do the same for me.”
“You confound me, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth shook her head, shrugging. “I believe your request is fair under our circumstances. What I would like to know more than anything else is who exactly it is whom I married. Are you the surly, officious oaf who saw no good in my family and me or the kind gentleman of the past hour? For I will confess I like the latter very much.”
“You do?” His eagerness was that of a little boy begging for a strawberry tart and getting told he could have two. “Then will you not call me Mr. Darcy when we are alone?”
“I shall think about it,” she teased. “However, I cannot refer to you as Fitzwilliam as your relatives come to mind. From the register this morning I know your second name is James. I cannot call you by this name as I will confuse you with your nephew. Miss Bingley freely addresses you as Darcy. I would never want to do anything she does. So, what do you suggest, sir?”
It was his turn to smile. “My sister calls me William.”
“I can see by your eyes that you have great affection for Miss Darcy.”
“Then I will not presume to interfere with her personal appellation.” Elizabeth chuckled. “I shall call you Will.”
“No one has called me Will since my mother,” he whispered, looking pleased.
“Pray do get used to hearing it. Will you call for the carriage? Will you ring the bell for tea? Will you pass the boiled potatoes? Will you hand me my book?”
“Possibly, I am.” Her smile came easily, which both surprised and pleased her. Their relationship had been set into stone in Longbourn’s chapel. What the two of them did with their time together depended upon them. Where Elizabeth had, at first, held no hope for possible felicity, she now knew there was a basis for at least a friendship with the man.
As a woman’s mind will do, it jumped far into the future. Should their path continue as it had done over the past moments, they could eventually be happy. Nonetheless, they had many obstacles to overcome, not the least of which was his vile actions towards Mr. Wickham.
Two years prior while in London, her aunt and uncle had taken her to a magic show. The performer was a master of illusion. Over and over Elizabeth had been fooled by what her mind saw versus what her eyes saw. Was it the same with Mr. Darcy?
“You are frowning. May I know why?” he asked.
Without thought, she responded truthfully, “I cannot know.”