J. Dawn King

Bestselling author of Jane Austen variations

Change of Attitude

Author’s Note: Like the story, “Forgotten!”, I am posting this here so it will have a permanent home. There will be more new stories in the future. Happy reading!

Change of Attitude

CHAPTER ONE
Hunsford, Kent – April 1812

“How could he?” Elizabeth was livid. Finding out from Colonel Fitzwilliam that his arrogant cousin had deliberately separated the sweetest, kindest person on the face of the earth from Mr. Bingley was beyond the pale. Never had she felt such anger towards another human.

She quickened her pace until she was at a run. Unseen were the groves and gardens Elizabeth had delighted in over the past four weeks. Equally ignored were the colonel’s pleading tones, begging to know what he had said to cause such turmoil and pain.

Words — hurtful words pounded in her brain to the rhythm of her feet hitting the gravel pathway: “tolerable” “not handsome enough” “saved a friend from the inconveniences of a most imprudent marriage” “strong objections against the lady”. By the time she arrived at the parsonage, tears were streaming from her eyes while sharp pains filled her skull.

Charlotte Collins took one look at her friend and ushered her quickly upstairs to the room Elizabeth had used since her arrival from Hertfordshire. She was pleased at how her friend had made her mark on the lodgings, an open book on the side table, a drawing of the Bennet family propped against the mirror on top of the bureau containing her clothes.

“Eliza, pray tell me what has upset you so.” Charlotte, at seven and twenty, had known Elizabeth since her birth. She knew her friend was a young woman of strong opinions and feelings. She also knew there was an inherent kindness and consideration for others that softened those emotions – usually. “Elizabeth, what can I do for you, dear?”

Elizabeth had immediately gone to the window, staring unseeingly at the roadway to Rosings. When she pivoted to face her friend, Charlotte could see it was not sadness or pain, but intense anger that plagued Elizabeth.

“What has happened?” Charlotte put her hand to her chest and spoke softly, deep concern reflected in her voice. Hunsford was a peaceful area of Kent. Lady Catherine de Bourgh would allow for nothing less. However, they were not isolated from the rest of the world and trouble could always find its way into the best of situations.

Elizabeth squeezed her eyelids tight and took in a deep breath. Exhaling it slowly while she gathered her thoughts from the fragments of her memory, she sat on the bed and patted a spot next to her for Charlotte.

“Pray forgive my harried entrance to your home, my friend.” Elizabeth was relieved when Charlotte reached out to grasp her hand. “I received some unsettling news from the colonel that destroys all hope for Jane’s happiness.”

“Oh no!” Charlotte knew how close the two sisters were and how protective Elizabeth was of Jane’s feelings. Though she was the younger sibling, she was the responsible one.

“Yes, Charlotte. Mr. Darcy has been the means of ruining, perhaps forever, the happiness of a most beloved sister, exposing her to the derision for disappointed hopes, causing misery of the acutest kind.” Elizabeth failed to keep the bitterness from her words.

“Oh, poor Jane.” Charlotte well knew the gossip from Hertfordshire. Her own mother regularly wrote of the failure of the beautiful eldest Bennet daughter to make a match while her own daughter was well settled with Mr. Collins. Mrs. Lucas must have been insufferable to Elizabeth’s mother. “I find it hard to believe this of Mr. Darcy. He appears to be an honorable gentleman who has shown no little interest in you, Eliza dear.”

“Me?” Elizabeth was stunned. “Why ever would you say such a thing, Charlotte? He would be the last man on earth I would ever befriend. Intolerable, insufferable man!”

Charlotte chuckled softly. “Lizzy Bennet, you stop that right now.” She squeezed her friend’s hand. “You sound like Lydia after she has been told she cannot have her way.”

Of all the things Elizabeth had expected her friend to say, that was not it. It hurt a bit that Charlotte was not standing up for her. “His words have been unkind, Charlotte. His actions have been equally officious.”

“And yours have not been towards him, Lizzy?” Charlotte leaned sideways to tap her shoulder to her friend’s. “Think, I pray you. While I do not excuse his unkind words from the Meryton assembly, do I need to remind you of how quickly you told the tale so others might be turned against him to your thinking? You also quickly spread Mr. Darcy’s supposed misconduct with Mr. Wickham, though you know neither man well enough to perceive the actual truth.”

Elizabeth dropped her head, Charlotte’s words cutting straight through her troubled heart. Though they caused discomfort, they were the truth.

“Think of this as well, Elizabeth. Did you not tell me after you cared for Jane at Netherfield Park that Mr. Bingley seemed to give much weight to the opinions of Mr. Darcy? You jested at the time and treated it as an insult to Mr. Darcy, but what would a true friend do? I do know that I, personally, would have my ire raised if someone treated you with the same disdain you have shown Mr. Darcy. What must Mr. Bingley think of you, and by extension, Jane?”

“Charlotte!” Elizabeth whispered on an exhale.

“Add this to Jane’s shyness and hesitation to display her feelings, what would Mr. Bingley think?” Charlotte paused to let it sink in. “Surely he would have to conclude that a match with a Bennet would not be wise. He would have no possible means of knowing Jane was falling in love with him. And, Elizabeth, he would have to wonder at being attached to a family who displayed animosity to his closest friend. As amiable as Mr. Bingley is, Eliza, that would be an obstacle few men would try to overcome.”

Charlotte waited. She knew her friend. She knew her fierce loyalty and her honor.

“You are correct in everything you have said, Charlotte.” Finally, Elizabeth raised her eyes and looked at her friend. “I only have to be ashamed at what my feelings and conduct have been. Mr. Darcy’s ill-timed words and actions do not excuse my own.”

Charlotte noted the lift to Elizabeth’s chin.

“You are a true and wise friend, Mrs. Collins.”

Charlotte chuckled. “No, Eliza. I am an observant friend.”

Elizabeth’s mind was in a turmoil. Her heart ached for her sister and it ached at the thought she might have lost Charlotte’s respect. Though seven years separated them in age, they had been close as siblings. She vowed to improve, but…

“Charlotte, why do you keep insisting that Mr. Darcy has an interest in me? Surely, with the exposure of my own misconduct, he would never condescend to look upon an impertinent country miss.”

Charlotte smiled. It was as she knew it would be. Elizabeth Bennet was like a dog with a bone, chewing it until it was completely satisfied. Her innate curiosity combined with her intellect, viewed puzzles and mysteries as a challenge. Apparently Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy was a square peg that Elizabeth would now need to fit into a small round hole.

“Look at the evidence before you, Elizabeth. How many women did he dance with at the Netherfield ball? Only you. How many times have you found his eyes following you and his ears listening to your every word? How intently did he listen to your performance at my home in comparison to others? How many times has he involved you in conversations to the exclusion of others? How many times has he “accidently” come upon you on the pathways of Rosings Park? Think, Eliza.”

“But this makes no sense!” Elizabeth’s mind was spinning so rapidly it was beginning to ache. She put the palm of her hands over her eyes and fell back across the bed. “This makes no sense, I say.”

Charlotte patted her on the leg. “Well, dear, that may be so. Nonetheless, it is what it is.”

Without removing her hands, Elizabeth chortled, “you are no help at all, friend.”

“That is most likely so.” Charlotte stood from the side of the bed and turned to her friend. “While you were walking the grounds this morning, a letter arrived for you from your father. He also wrote to Mr. Collins and myself. He misses you, Eliza, and wants you home – now.”

Elizabeth quickly sat up and reached out her hand for the letter Charlotte had retrieved from her pocket.

“I have enjoyed my stay with you very much, Charlotte, but I miss him as well.”

Charlotte reached out a hand to help Elizabeth stand. “Mr. Collins has made arrangements for you to travel to Hertfordshire tomorrow by post. Maria has chosen to stay here for the rest of the visit so you will be traveling alone.” Charlotte sighed heavily. “I begged for him to send a maid for propriety’s sake. He was unwilling.”

Elizabeth was not surprised at the smallness of Mr. Collins. He had spent the past four weeks extolling the virtues of the mistress of Hunsford parsonage in an attempt to have Elizabeth regret her decision to reject his offer of marriage only three days before he then offered for Charlotte. It would not be a sacrifice to no longer be in his presence day in and day out. The combined presence of Mr. Collins, his patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and her nephew, Mr. Darcy had only been tolerable by the wonderful association of Charlotte and Colonel Fitzwilliam.

“Do not be concerned, Charlotte.” Elizabeth realized she had much to do. “If you would pass on my excuses to the Rosings party for not attending tonight, I would be appreciative. My head is aching and I need to pack and prepare for my travel.”

“It shall be done.” Charlotte hugged Elizabeth to her, relishing the contact with someone who loved her dearly. “I do believe Mr. Darcy will be disappointed with your absence.”

“Charlotte!”

She chuckled as she left Elizabeth to her tasks.

CHAPTER TWO
Rosings Park – April 1812

Fitzwilliam Darcy was agitated and the teasing from his cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, was irritating him more than usual. After months of struggle, he had decided he would secretly arrange with Miss Elizabeth Bennet to meet her in the grove early the next morning. Although, he knew it was her habit to walk out if the weather was fine, he had something of import to ask her. It would be the first time an offer of marriage came out of his mouth. He was nervous — and filled with exquisite anticipation of her favorable reply.

“Would you quit your infernal pacing and sit down?” It was more an order than a question. Colonel Fitzwilliam watched his younger cousin with glee. He spent long months with his regiment observing men torment and tease each other and felt he had a superior gift in his abilities against Darcy. Rarely had he seen his cousin so unsettled.

Their aunt, Lady Catherine, had increased her efforts to match Darcy with her daughter, Anne. Earlier today, she tried to back Darcy into a corner by demanding his acquiescence to her purpose in front of the parson, Mr. Collins. Darcy was as unbending as their aunt. It had been a spectacular showdown that threatened to culminate that evening. The colonel only regretted that Mrs. Collins and Miss Elizabeth would be witnesses to the conflagration. They were both good women.

“No, I will not.”

“Are you worried about what our aunt has up her sleeve?” Richard could not help but needle Darcy to see how he would react — to see if he could break that mask of … well, the mask of something. The colonel was only speculating as to Darcy’s concerns. What else could it be but a possible marriage to Anne that has him so upset?

“Our aunt? Why would you think I was worried about Lady Catherine?” The confusion in Darcy’s voice was crystal clear.

“You are not?” The colonel was confused now as well. If not Lady Catherine, then what had gotten into his cousin?

“Certainly I am not!” As soon as Richard opened his mouth to comment, Darcy continued. “And I am not talking to you about anything that may or may not concern me so I pray you speak no more of this. You may talk of the weather or the roads. You may even talk of books, though you read so little other than military strategy that I do not think that particular conversation would last more than five minutes.” It was said with a huff.

Richard huffed back. He stood and poured himself a brandy. He might need the whole bottle before the evening is done.

“I only regret the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Collins and their guests tonight. Lady Catherine is in fine fettle and you are not yourself.” Richard had no idea that Darcy would respond as he did.

The colonel caught Darcy’s reaction at the mention of the parsonage guests. Ah-Ha! It could not be young Miss Lucas, as she had not spoken one word to them since she arrived at Hunsford. No, it had to be Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

“I am tolerably fine, Richard.” Darcy insisted.

The colonel decided to bait his cousin to see if he had reached the right conclusion. “I met Miss Elizabeth this morning in the grove and walked with her for a while.”

Ah-Ha! Darcy not only stopped pacing, he had his arms stiff at his side with his hands fisted. Yes, I am on the right track.

“I am sure you had a pleasant stroll. Miss Bennet is delightful company.”

“That she is.” The colonel knew his cousin well. He wanted to laugh out loud, but refrained, knowing he would do so later in his room. “We spoke of marriage.”

“What!”

Darcy charged him like a bull to a red flag. Having served in two campaigns in Spain, the colonel knew the fierce look of an enraged beast. It was the look his cousin was wearing at the moment. Lord, I am enjoying this!

“We spoke of the possibility of my entering a marriage arrangement with her.” He paused for effect. It worked!

Darcy threw his hands in the air and spun around so Richard could no longer see his face. Darcy’s hands dropped to cover his eyes. “And what was her reply?” It came out as a whisper.

Colonel Fitzwilliam could see the tension in his cousin’s back and shoulders. He saw no movement and realized Darcy had not taken a breath.

“She agreed with me.” Richard carefully chose his words, speaking them slowly. For a certainty, while they had discussed marriage in general, he had been quick to assure her that his approach to her was for friendship only. He could not afford to take a wife with little or no dowry.

Darcy’s head dropped. His shoulders slumped. It was painful to see so Richard decided to put him out of his misery.

“She agreed, Darcy, that marriage to me would be impossible.” Richard felt relief emanating from his cousin like a wave of the sea. “We also spoke of Bingley and I offered her praise of you for saving him from an imprudent marriage.”

The shoulders were again stiff as a sawn board. “Her reply?” The words were crisp and clipped.

“I appealed to her not to share the information as if word were to get around to the lady’s family, it would be an unpleasant thing. She was in agreement and left for the parsonage soon after.”

“You imbecile!” “You half-wit!” Darcy spun back towards his cousin and reached out his hands as if to clutch them tightly around the colonel’s throat. “It was Elizabeth’s most beloved sister I was speaking of, you dolt.”

Richard groaned as Darcy again threw his hands in the air. “What have you done, Richard?”

The colonel said not a word as Darcy resumed his frantic pacing. Richard was not known for his patience as his troops could certainly attest. Finally, he could stand it no longer.

“Why?” He waited until Darcy was headed his direction. “Why did you condemn Miss Bennet’s family as objectionable when it is the same family of Miss Elizabeth?”

Darcy stopped.

“They are objectionable. Oh, certainly, not Miss Bennet or Miss Elizabeth. However, the rest of the family are ill-mannered. Mrs. Bennet is solely concerned with matching her five daughters with the most eligible men in the county. Mr. Bennet is negligent, and the three youngest sisters are vulgar.”

“I see.” Richard put his right index finger up to his chin. “Mrs. Bennet tried to match her daughters with you, then. I could see where you would not like that at all.”

“No, she did not.” Darcy was starting to lose some of his anger to discomfort.

“She did not consider you most eligible?” Richard was surprised. Something was not right with this situation. His cousin was one of the most desirable men in England with his wealth, land holdings, and name.

“I did hear her speak of my ten-thousand a year on several occasions.” Darcy quickly justified.

“So she did try to match you with a daughter?”

Darcy could hear the puzzlement in his cousin’s voice. He decided to be frank.

“She did not.” Darcy walked to the window and looked out into the twilight. The group from the parsonage would be arriving soon. “I insulted Miss Elizabeth gravely the night we first met and was my taciturn self on every other occasion where I was in her company. Mrs. Bennet does not wish me for a son-in-law, Richard. Of that I have no doubt.”

Richard shook his head. His cousin was in a fine meddle. “I see.

“Do you?” Darcy asked, sarcasm dripping from his tongue. “Do you have any idea how I have struggled for months to overcome my feelings? Do you have any idea the degradation it would be to take Elizabeth Bennet as my wife? Can you begin to comprehend how vile I am for separating Bingley and Miss Bennet just so I would not be thrown in company with Elizabeth, so I would not watch her walk down the aisle with another man, because she is not of our sphere? Do you?”

Again, Darcy walked back to the window, standing as erect as a soldier.

“If that is the way you feel, Darcy, you had best let her go.” At his softly spoken words, Darcy turned back to him, a look of shock on his face. “You are denigrating the very people Miss Elizabeth loves, cousin. They have created, molded, and shaped her to be the woman who has finally attracted your attention. And, if we were to compare vulgar relatives, Fitzwilliam Darcy, both you and I would be on the short end of the stick. When was the last time Lady Catherine acted with decorum? She has treated Miss Elizabeth abominably by getting into her business and prying where it is not her concern. She epitomizes the word indecorous.”

Darcy sat in the chair next to his cousin and dropped his forehead into his palm, breathing in and out slowly. “Yes, I know.” Hesitation laced his voice.

“What are your intentions, Darcy?” Richard felt Darcy’s discomfort. He knew his cousin’s arrogance and pride would bite him one day and this business with Miss Elizabeth had taken out a big chunk of his ego. “You have several times called Miss Elizabeth by her Christian name. This tells me how vested your heart is with the young lady. Add that to her keen intelligence and you have to realize she is more than aware of how you view her family. With the information I unwisely shared today about Bingley and Miss Bennet, I am sure she is fairly close to hating you.”

“Thank you for that, Richard!” Darcy was not a coward. He looked his cousin in the eye unwaveringly.

“The Hunsford party will be arriving shortly. I will endeavor to make excuses for your presence as long as possible while you come up with a plan of attack to win your fair maiden.” Richard stood and headed to the library door. “You had best be quick about it, Darcy. I just heard them arrive.”

“Wonderful!” Darcy threw himself against the back of the chair, his posture anything but erect. “Just wonderful.”

 CHAPTER THREE

Elizabeth had been asleep when Charlotte had returned from Rosings so it was not until the morning when the plans made the night before had been told to her. Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam had decided on an early departure from Rosings for London and offered her transport to the home of her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner on Gracechurch Street near Cheapside.

“It is not to be borne!” Elizabeth chuckled to herself as she realized her opinion mirrored a common utterance from Lady Catherine. Possibly she had been in Kent too long.

During the night, the silence of the room had clashed against the turmoil of her thoughts. Elizabeth pondered over and over the words Charlotte had shared. Had she been judgmental? Certainly. Had her own conduct been improper? Absolutely. It shamed her to realize how critical she had become, not only of Mr. Darcy, but of her own parents and younger siblings as well. Shame on her! If she would only be half as sweet as Jane, Elizabeth would be a better person. She sighed. She was not, nor could ever become, Jane Bennet.

Lady Catherine had called her an ‘obstinate, headstrong girl’ early in their acquaintance. At the time, Elizabeth had been proud to have stirred such an opinion from her hostess. However, upon reviewing the conversation, she was disappointed in how argumentative and assertive she had been to the older woman. Elizabeth was not only a guest in Charlotte’s home, she was a guest at Lady Catherine’s table. Truly, her conduct was not above reproach. Who was she to condemn Mr. Darcy for acting in the same manner as she? It was a horrifying realization to come to. And humbling.

The carriage moved slowly through the Kent countryside. When both Darcy and the colonel realized Mr. Collins was not sending a maid as a companion for the trip, they both elected to ride the horses which had been tied to the back of the carriage. Thus, Elizabeth was seated alone with her only company being her thoughts. Occasionally she could hear snippets of conversation between the two cousins. Their baritone voices traveled easily through the jangle of the harnesses and the creaking of the turning wheels.

“I need to prove to her that I am the gentleman I claim to be.” – Mr. Darcy.

“She is a woman worth fighting for.” – Colonel Fitzwilliam.

“If only we could start anew.” – Mr. Darcy.

“I would have bought the dappled mare had I not needed a new saddle as well.” – Colonel Fitzwilliam.

They had been traveling for just under an hour when the driver suddenly called the team of horses to a halt. The footmen dismounted from the back of the carriage and Elizabeth saw them move to the front of the team, holding them still. Mr. Darcy and the colonel, seeing the situation from their elevated position on horseback, quickly dismounted and rushed to provide aid.

On the side of the road was a grand carriage, a ducal seal etched in gold on the door. A footman from the conveyance had been in the middle of the road, attempting to flag them to a stop. He raced to help hold Darcy’s team as a man dressed in fine clothing approached the cousins.

“I thank you, gentlemen, for coming to our aid. My wife is in some distress. We had sent our servants to the next stop to have rooms ready for us, so there is no woman to offer assistance. I see you are traveling with your wife.” He looked at Darcy. “Might she be of assistance?”

At that, Elizabeth quickly left Darcy’s coach and approached the gentleman. “Your Grace, I would be pleased to offer comfort to your wife.” She curtseyed. Before he could reply, she rushed to the door of the Duke’s carriage in hopes she could be of help. She heard the woman’s groans before she saw her. The door was opened to let in the spring air. Inside was a woman, heavy with child. Her face was a dark red with tendrils of perspiration running down her brow, contorted with pain. She had her back pressed against the squabs and was grasping a strap suspended from the corners in each hand. Her bare feet were wedged on the seat facing her while her shoes and stockings were in a puddle on the floor.

“Oh, my dear woman!” Elizabeth had been a curious five-year-old when Lydia was born. Her Aunt Phillips and the mid-wife were so intent on caring for Mrs. Bennet that they had not noticed the young girl sneak into the room. What she saw had shocked her to her core. However, when little Elizabeth had later looked upon her newest sister, she realized that all the blood and struggle was worth it. She had never seen a baby as beautiful as Lydia.

This woman was in the same situation as Mrs. Bennet had been almost fifteen years past. Since then, life around farm animals had repeated the miracle of birth regularly. Needless to say, reading about it and observing farm animals was far different than being the only female around to help this poor woman. Elizabeth felt highly unqualified to be in this situation.

“Get in here!” The woman screamed through gritted teeth. “Now!”

Elizabeth moved into action. By then, the pain had released its tight grip and the woman let go of the leather straps and fell back into the seat. Elizabeth took the woman’s hand.

“I am Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn in Hertfordshire. Is this your first child, Your Grace?”

“It is.” The woman was clearly exhausted.

Elizabeth stepped out of the carriage.

“Mr. Darcy, if you would gather together all the clean fabric you possess; toweling, blankets, any cotton you can spare. It would be greatly appreciated.”

“Colonel Fitzwilliam, we will need water – hot water.”

She failed to see his look of perplexity. Hot water? They were in the middle of nowhere. Where was he to procure hot water?

“Your Grace, do you have a clean, sharp knife? I would also ask how far ahead your servants might be? Would it be imprudent to send one of the gentlemen to fetch them for a speedy return?”

The men jumped to agree and obey. They felt much better with a task. By the time they started bringing the desired items, minus water which was hot, to the doorway, the duchess was again with pain.

“It is too early. This baby is too early.” Elizabeth could hear the fear and concern in the duke’s voice. She was not one to give false platitudes and she knew nothing she could promise him under the circumstances. A maiden, which she was, was to be kept ignorant of the birthing process from beginning to end. It was only her eagerness to learn all she could about a multitude of subjects that had given her any exposure for what to expect. How she wished a mid-wife would be traveling passed at this particular moment.

She turned back to the woman in the carriage and used the cool, damp cloth the Colonel had provided to wipe her brow. Once the pain eased, Elizabeth inquired, “do you feel the pains increasing in frequency and in length?”

With horror she realized her question came from the recent birth of a prize foal in Longbourn’s stable. Again, Elizabeth was where she was not supposed to be, hidden in the hayloft to watch the birth. She recalled it was a question her father had asked of the head groomsman, just before the colt was born. I had best not repeat that information to the Duchess.

“Yes!”

Once the woman’s face was relaxed, Elizabeth could tell she was younger than she had assumed. This could go on for a while, she suspected, at least if she was anything like the horse.

“Pardon me, Elizabeth.” The woman chuckled weakly. “I am Lady Mary Winters, Duchess of Devondale. My husband is Lord Malcolm Winters. I believe you will soon meet our son or daughter.” It was said with a smile.

The women could hear an animated conversation outside the carriage.

“Foolish, foolish me!” The duke ranted. “I felt it was safe to travel to town as there was two months before we expected a birth. Two months!”

“Your Grace, what is done is done.” Darcy replied. “I have no doubt that Miss Elizabeth will provide the best of assistance. She is both intelligent and kind, sir. I believe you could not have hoped for better care for your wife.”

Elizabeth was stunned. She even peeked out the window to verify it was actually Darcy who had spoken. It was.

“Your Grace…” Elizabeth began.

“Pray call me Mary.” The pain hit even harder than the last time. Mary started to pant in short, intense breaths. “Ohhhhhhh! I believe the baby is coming. Elizabeth! Oh, help me!”

Elizabeth recalled the absurd position the mid-wife took with Mrs. Bennet, though the rest of the experience was hazy, and moved herself between the bent legs of the duchess. She grabbed blankets and towels as Mary instinctively raised her gown. The only book she had clandestinely read about birthing babies indicated there needed attention to separating the baby from its mother. She shuddered at the thought of what was to come. She prayed – fervently.

The dark crown of the baby’s head was visible. Fear and anticipation ran through Elizabeth like a lightning bolt that hit too near. “I see it, Mary.” Excitement filled her voice while fear clutched her heart.

“I do not care, Elizabeth. I JUST WANT IT OUT!!!” Mary pushed with a fierceness that threatened to pull the thick leather straps from the ceiling where they were solidly fastened. Her muscles quivered and shuddered as she groaned a keening wail.

“Mr. Darcy!” She heard him come running to the doorway. Untying her bonnet, she commanded. “Tear the ribbons off and straighten them out. Quickly!” Within seconds he thrust two long ribbons through the window. “I thank you, sir.”

His retreat was rapid. It occurred to Elizabeth how differently a man responds to a birth than a woman. Women rush to see the mother and baby – are drawn like bees to honey. Men? They slap one another on the back and congratulate the father for a job well done, but have little to do with the birth or the child. At least that was the experience in the Bennet household.

The process moved at a good pace and soon, to the relief of the mother, the child was born. Elizabeth rotated the baby to clean the mucus from its nose and mouth, thankful for the book’s instructions, and saw the evidence they had a son. He was small – much smaller than Lydia had been. Of course, Elizabeth had been so little when her sister had been born that she was not a good judge of size.

“Ten fingers, ten toes, two eyes, and a nose.” She looked at Mary with a smile. “You have a son.” Making use of the ribbon and the knife, Elizabeth quickly separated the child from the birth sack. As she wrapped him in a towel, swaddling him to keep him content, Mary started panting again. Elizabeth knew what followed, so called to the men to fetch the baby while she cared for the mess to come.

Only, there was no mess. There was another dark circle pushing its way from the womb.

“Oh my goodness. Mary, you are having twins.”

It was another few frantic minutes before the next child appeared. Another boy. Elizabeth hoped there was no more as they were quickly running out of towels.

“Mr. Darcy, please come.” She heard his footsteps approaching. She handed him baby number two and turned back to the mother. By the time the birth was complete and a measure of cleanness had been achieved, the women heard an approaching carriage and the duke’s call of recognition. Help had arrived.

CHAPTER FOUR

It seemed like hours later before the carriages were ready to depart. The babies had been cuddled and fed, the duchess quickly taking to nursing her children, to the amusement of herself and her husband. It just was not done for someone in their position to care for such a task. It would be a slow, cautious trip for them to London. Elizabeth could already tell that the duke would fuss over each and every bump, as would the duchess.

Elizabeth sighed with contentment. The love and respect the duke had shown his wife, uncaring of who was a spectator of these emotions, assured Elizabeth they had a love match. The children were welcomed heartily. Mary had explained they had been married six years and had despaired of having an heir. With the twins they had an heir and a spare. Elizabeth was delighted for them all.

She was a mess. Even though she had used the last clean towel to wash her arms and face, her dress was soiled. There was no place to change to other garments until they reached the next coaching inn. It would have to do. Her bonnet had been destroyed, but again, it would have to do. She had no idea where her gloves had gone, though she suspected they were balled up with the blankets and towels now inside the servant’s coach.

Elizabeth was surprised when Mr. Darcy approached her to assist her into his carriage.

“Would you mind if I rode inside with you for a bit?” Darcy was hesitant as he asked.

She chuckled. “Mr. Darcy, I do believe the bounds of propriety have been breached from the moment I climbed into your carriage this morning. At this point, I see it would make little difference.” Elizabeth gestured into the interior. “Pray join me.”

The feel of his ungloved hand against hers was unexpected. She paused in stepping up into the carriage and looked at him; really looked at him. Darcy had a soft smile on his mouth which rendered him exceedingly handsome. Elizabeth was surprised she had never noticed.

“Miss Elizabeth, are you well?” Darcy’s smile grew.

“I am.” She looked behind him for the colonel. “Will your cousin not be joining us?”

“He will not.” The look of a man intent on a mission entered his eyes. It was the first time she had noticed that particular expression.

All of a sudden it dawned on her – all this time she had been intently studying him as much as he had been examining her. How humbling!

As Darcy settled across from her, he began speaking.

“Do you like children, Miss Elizabeth?”

“I do.”

“When you marry, do you hope to have many children?”

“Enough to fill my home with learning, laughter, and love, Mr. Darcy. You?”

“I feel very much the same. Pemberley has been quiet for far too long.” Her answers to his bold questions had been as expected. It gave him the confidence to continue. “Miss Elizabeth, it has been brought to my attention, by my cousin, that my conduct has been unpardonable and has merited the severest reproof. I cannot think of it without abhorrence. I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately, as an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing; to care for none beyond my own family circle; to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, Miss Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled.”

Elizabeth was unsure how to respond. Mr. Darcy? Humbled? Her own opinion of herself had taken a beating over the past four and twenty hours. His comments had been entirely unexpected. Eventually, she decided to follow his lead.

“Mr. Darcy, the task undertaken by Colonel Fitzwilliam which brought you such clarity of feeling, was also accomplished by my good friend, Mrs. Collins. I, too, was humbled to realize my first impressions most probably were not accurate. You see, I have held you to blame for my sister’s unhappiness, for injustice towards Mr. Wickham, and for speaking in company about your opinion of me. I wrongly shared that blame with anyone who would listen to me. In this, I am like my mother, a gossip of the worst kind.”

She held up her hand to stop him from commenting when she saw his mouth opening.

“What, for me, is most difficult to face is the disdain I showed my own good friend for marrying a ridiculous man. Yet, in truth, I was the one deserving of ridicule.” Elizabeth took in a breath and held it, gathering her thoughts into order. “You see, though I believe I would make an excellent mother if I had the opportunity, I do find, because of my impertinence and conceit, that I would not be a good wife. So the point is moot.”

“You regret refusing Mr. Collins?” Darcy was horrified at the thought.

“Not at all, sir.” Elizabeth cleared her throat so she could continue. “I regret not being more supportive and understanding of Charlotte’s circumstances. It is a good match for her and she is contented.” It still puzzled Elizabeth that this could be so, but it was not her place to try to understand. “Charlotte showed her maturity by not denying me her company. She knew how I felt about her marriage, yet she welcomed me like the wonderful friend she has always been.”

“Mr. Darcy, though Mrs. Collin’s roots are in trade, she is a much better person than I could ever be.” Elizabeth twisted the single ribbon still attached to the bonnet laying in her lap. “I must make it my goal to be as kind as Jane, as good as Charlotte, and as accomplished as Miss Bingley.”

Darcy laughed as she hoped he would. He was a beautiful man when he smiled.

“I pray, Miss Elizabeth, that you accept my apologies for my ill treatment of you and your family. My intention is to seek out Bingley once we arrive in London to correct my mistake in influencing him inappropriately. I would also like to take this opportunity to enlighten you as to my dealings with Wickham. For confirmation of all the details you may apply to Colonel Fitzwilliam as he is in receipt of all information pertaining to that miscreant.” Darcy leaned forward in his seat to where his knees almost touched hers. “But for us, Elizabeth, my desire is to take a chance with an impertinent, headstrong girl. My hope is to fill my home with learning, laughter, and love.”

He reached for her hands, which she gladly gave up to him. “Elizabeth, I never want to forget this day. It is a day of miracles. I am hoping, after all that has occurred, you will grant me the greatest honor by agreeing to a courtship where we can learn to know each other. It is my hope this arrangement will lead to its natural conclusion – matrimony. With this said, I beg you not to change, to make no alteration. You, as you are, claimed my heart and my soul. I will love no other.”

Darcy bent his knee in the confines of the carriage and clutched her hands even tighter. “Pray accept my offer?”

Elizabeth could hardly breathe. The messages moving between her heart and mind were screaming for the only answer she was willing and able to give. “Yes, Mr. Darcy, I accept your offer of courtship.” Elizabeth shook her head.

Darcy saw her look of puzzlement. “Whatever is the matter, Elizabeth?”

“You will have a difficult task ahead of you, Mr. Darcy. I have had such a change of attitude since arriving in Kent. My father is never going to believe this.”

He looked at her closely. “I feel the same. But, do you believe this?”

“I do, Mr. Darcy.” Elizabeth smiled at him until her eyes twinkled. “I certainly do.”

***

I would tell you about their first kiss, but you would swoon. So we will end it here knowing our couple lived happily ever after.

The End

2 Comments

  1. Sheila L. Majczan

    May 1, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    Just reread this one also and loved it again.

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