Chapter 98. Moving on
Posted on 2011-02-26
Alexander Halsley was right that the evening garnered a lot of attention, meaning a lot of press coverage. It remained a topic of conversation for months afterwards as well. Fanny Bennet absorbed the news of the party furiously and ferociously, hating every word and every image and blaming Elizabeth for not allowing her to be a part of it. Caroline Bingley did the same. Neither could find anyone who would listen to their complaints which in itself was very frustrating. Jane grumbled, but kept her thoughts private.
The coverage of Elizabeth was very favourable. Reports continued to praise her intelligence, her beauty and her grace. The obvious happiness of the couple was highlighted, as was the belief that they were particularly well-matched. Elizabeth's gown was much discussed, but not nearly as much as their rings. A close up photo of them was released and included an explanation of the origins of Elizabeth's ring and suggestions as to its monetary value. Fanny's jaw dropped when she saw the zeros on the sum, but it slammed tightly shut again as she read the sidebar explaining that a small showing of the Darcy heirloom jewellery was being arranged and details were expected to be released in the New Year. The diamond choker and earring set Elizabeth had worn was expected to be part of the exhibit. An observer would have sworn they saw smoke coming out of Fanny's ears as she saw the photos of Elizabeth with Mary and Catherine and the Gardiners and read the names of some of the titled guests.
There was one photograph of William standing with a group of men which included Charles. The caption had Fanny rushing to the phone. After identifying the men, it hinted that Charles' short marriage to 'Dr Bennet's sister' (Jane wasn't even named) was 'in big trouble' as he had attended alone and was rumoured to have moved out of their house. When he was asked about the whereabouts of his wife, he had said nothing beyond, "No comment."
Jane listened to Fanny's rant. Habit unfortunately meant that she tried to soothe her mother and to think of ways to regain Fanny's favour rather than admit that her best option would be to do as others increasingly were and ignore her. She could not and would not admit that her way – trying to make peace no matter what (not that she thought of it in such terms) – was wrong, especially if it meant criticising 'she who must not be criticised': Fanny. Her stubbornness in this regard was evident in her counselling sessions with Charles.
After the party, William and Elizabeth saw Mrs Reynolds off on a holiday to Japan. It was their gift to her for her continued support and assistance and as a token of their appreciation. Georgiana returned to Edinburgh after spending a couple of more days in London (which included another visit with William and Elizabeth to Dr Behr). Elizabeth and William dove into writing thank you notes; it would take time and they wouldn't finish the task until after their trip to Italy.
They left for Italy after Elizabeth's lecture Wednesday morning. The journey went smoothly and they soon found themselves back in the villa they had visited in April. The arrangements had been much easier to make this time, as William had been content to contact the same services (food and car) they had used then. It was evening when they arrived.
Elizabeth took a deep breath and slowly released it. They were on the terrace off the master bedroom. "It is just as beautiful as I remember and as…peaceful."
William stood behind her and wrapped his arms around her torso. After kissing her temple, he murmured, "Mm."
"Do you feel it too?"
She felt him nod. It was a wonderful place and something about it seemed to fit them. They felt comfortable and content here. William had not yet told Elizabeth that the villa was to be sold. He had an idea, but before raising it he wanted to be sure it was a rational (as well as sentimental) one.
In a moment, Elizabeth turned and kissed him. "It's warmer than April. That's no surprise, I suppose. Shall we eat? It's getting late and it's been a long day."
He nodded and they followed her suggestion. They ate on the other, larger terrace which overlooked the sea.
When they were finished, William asked, "Fancy an evening swim?"
He looked a little mischievous and Elizabeth (correctly) assumed he was more interested in playing than swimming. She returned his look and nodded. They had a relaxing, loving and laughter-filled first night.
The next day they did nothing other than lounge around the villa, napping, reading, exploring the gardens and enjoying the pool. They were thus there to greet the woman who was responsible for delivering their food; she also prepared some of it. Despite a language barrier (she spoke as much English as they did Italian – not much), they were able to express their appreciation for her efforts and to assure her she was doing a more than adequate job.
Friday and Saturday morning were spent exploring the island and appreciating their solitude.
In a throwback to their earlier trip, William found Elizabeth sitting quietly on the terrace Saturday afternoon, her mind far, far away. It turned out that, like months ago, she was thinking about the baby that they might have had.
"She or he would be about six months old now," she said.
He sat down beside her and started to offer comfort. They had spoken a little about her pregnancy and its loss, but both knew they had not fully dealt with it.
"I'm sorry," she quickly added. "It's silly to dwell on it and I don't, not really. It just…came to mind. It does sometimes when I think about everything that's happened this past year, or how things were last year at this time."
William took a deep breath and nodded. His arm was around her shoulders. He was thinking his own thoughts and did not know what to say.
Elizabeth continued. "You know, I never really thought much about having children. I was, ambivalent I guess. It was always a decision that would be made at some point, with my partner. I wasn't like Jane or Charlotte; they always wanted to be mothers. Or Rebecca. I didn't know that it was something I wanted, but I also wasn't sure that I didn't want it."
"And now?" William asked.
Elizabeth shrugged. "If we had had the baby, I would have loved him or her and done my best to be a good parent. But…"
"But you're more important to me. Being with you and us – us being okay, being strong and happy – that's what matters most to me. I don't need to have children, but I do need you and I do need for us to be okay." She spoke with conviction. She was at peace with the belief that they would not have children. There were lots of ways they could live their life and share their love. Under other circumstances she might feel differently, but she meant what she said; William was more important than the opportunity to be a mother.
Neither said anything for a long moment. William then spoke, his voice quiet. "When you were pregnant, sometimes I would dream of what it would be like, what it could be like. They were dreams, real dreams. When I was asleep I mean. I would have these dreams of us and our baby, but they were completely mixed up with memories of my childhood with my parents. There were so many wonderful times, happy and loving."
Elizabeth could tell that it was hard for him to talk about and she snuggled closer to him and held the hand that draped over her chest.
"And," he went on, "and I started to imagine us having that with our baby."
Elizabeth didn't say anything. She rested her head on his shoulder, leaving him to decide where and how far to take the conversation. It was still very hard for him to talk about what they had lost.
After a long pause, he swallowed heavily and then said, "I would like…it frightens me, but I would like for us to have that. I'd like for us to have a baby."
Elizabeth was surprised and something she had buried inside of her, sparked. "Really?"
William nodded slowly. "I know, I know I'm not ready yet, but yes."
He studied her, asking silently what she thought or felt about it. She looked at him in return, her beautiful, expressive eyes flickering with a mix of emotions and questions.
"I can see it," he said. "A little Elizabeth maybe or a little boy; either. Showing her or him the world, watching them learn it. It...it reminds me of when I met you. I can still see it, you, that time we went for a walk to Oakham Mount or visited the museum and you just absorbed the experience. I can see our child doing the same thing; learning Pemberley as I did and, and all of the places we could show them, all the things we could teach them."
Elizabeth caressed his face for a little while as she thought, looking deep inside of her and considering what they had and what they could have. "I'd like that, too," she whispered, "but only if…only if, when we are both ready to deal with …everything."
William nodded and gave her a light kiss. "I know that I have to be stronger; I know I need to have my…anxieties under better control."
"And I would need to know how to help you do that, how to help you cope with them."
"I feel so much better now. I don't know how to describe it. I can sit here and I can think about my parents and miss them – I'll always miss them – but that's it. Not always; there is still some of the other feelings there – the fear – but it's getting better; a lot better."
"I know," Elizabeth said softly. "I can tell. This, this other thing it's…" Her manner displayed some hesitation.
"Something else to work on before we could…go on," he said. Having raised the issue, he wanted to assure her that he did, honestly, see it as a possibility and if she wanted it too, he would do everything in his power to see that they could have it.
Elizabeth's voice became rough and her eyes fell to the space between them. "I need to know I won't…that you won't…" She couldn't think of his withdrawal from her when she was pregnant without feeling distressed.
William nodded and wrapped his arms around her, gathering her close to him. He kissed the top of her head.
She continued. "I can deal with you needing reassurance, of…of you worrying about me, about how I'm feeling…"
"Within reason," he said. He knew he had to be more realistic about what was worth worrying about and to what degree. He had been learning that for months.
Elizabeth nodded. Resting her head on his shoulder, she swallowed and then admitted what she feared. "If…if you…pulled away again, started to get lost in your thoughts and wouldn't let me help you, it…it would hurt so much." She didn't know how she would bear it or how she would react. She liked to think she would be strong enough for both of them if needed, to see them through anything, but there was a part of her that doubted it; until tested, how could she really know how much she could withstand?
At her words, William had to close his eyes to stave off tears. He would forever be angry with himself for how he had hurt her with his inability to face his past and the pain of it.
They spent a long time talking about what it would take for them to be ready to consider having a baby. They agreed that they would return to Dr Behr and ask him to help them work towards this new goal.
Sunday morning Elizabeth suggested they have breakfast on the terrace located off the master bedroom. It was another lovely morning.
William nodded. "I'll get it."
As she went into the bathroom, he went to the kitchen; Elizabeth joined him there a moment later and they prepared their meal together, carrying it outside.
"What do you want to do today?' she asked.
He shrugged. "I would be content to explore the coast again. There were some places we didn't have a chance to visit in April."
Elizabeth nodded her agreement. She looked around the vista and sighed happily. "It really is simply…wonderful here. I'm so glad we came back."
William looked at her joyful expression. "I learned something when I made the arrangements for this visit."
She turned to him, eyebrows arched in question.
"The owner is planning to sell. He's getting older and wants to retire. He owns other holiday properties as well and is in the process of divesting them." He kept his eyes on her, knowing she would understand where he was going with his words.
"What did you say to him?"
"I asked him not to make any decisions until after our visit. I wasn't sure if, upon returning, we would…find the same feeling."
"I have," she said. "I absolutely love it here."
He smiled. "Do you think we should?"
"Really?" she said.
"We can certainly afford it," he said. "It could be…"
"A home away from home," she said.
He studied her reaction.
"It feels very indulgent," she admitted. Her environmentalist sensibilities also had concerns.
William, who was used to having whatever (materially) he wanted, didn't fully appreciate the feeling of being indulgent. "It would be our escape and we could let others use it. Lots of people have holiday homes."
Elizabeth nodded. As they ate, they talked about it for a little while longer. Elizabeth's love for the place overcame her objections especially as she started to imagine visiting with their family and friends and of being able to come back whenever they had the time and inclination.
The next morning, William rang the owner and came to an agreement. They arranged to let their lawyers handle the details; William sent an email to take care of this as well. When he was done, they looked at each other for a moment before both breaking out into smiles. Elizabeth threw herself into William's arms and he lifted her up and twirled her around.
The couple spent the rest of Monday and the Tuesday morning before leaving for the airport making plans for what would soon be their new holiday house. The purchase would include all of the furniture and fittings and in that regard there was little to talk about; they both agreed there was no immediate need for major changes although they did want to personalise the décor. The current owner promised to put them in touch with a caretaking company that was reputable. They dreamed about future visits on their own and with others. It was wonderful to plan the future knowing they could expect so much enjoyment and happiness in the years to come.
The autumn months flew by. They were both busy with work, and Elizabeth greatly enjoyed developing all sorts of plans for the FDF. They spent time with their family, including celebrating David Gardiner's birthday and visiting Georgiana, and with friends. There were regular notices about the couple in the gossip columns whose writers seemed to have developed a fascination with Elizabeth, to William's chagrin although he was very proud of his wife especially when the notices praised her achievements. They held smaller dinners and one larger party at their house, fulfilling social obligations with ease if not always with perfect enjoyment.
The purchase of the villa in Italy went smoothly and they returned for five days in late November to inaugurate it as theirs. Elizabeth researched and implemented various ways to offset the environmental cost of their travel; it wasn't perfect, but it helped. They personalised the house a little bit and ensured it was prepared to receive visitors. They purchased a car to leave at the villa as well rather than relying on rentals.
Georgiana continued to improve, slowly but steadily. She continued therapy (including on occasion with William), settled into her new house and watched her kittens grow, doting over them. Mrs Kaynard did as well, which helped soothe Georgiana's conscience when she left them to visit William and Elizabeth. She also focused on the classes she was taking, finding a real affinity for history, and on her efforts to make more social contacts.
Of all of them, Charles had the most difficult time in the autumn. He and Jane continued therapy, but he never felt that she took it seriously or that she was willing to approach it with the openness that was necessary. In mid-November their counsellor said as much to Jane as well and encouraged her to remember that as painful as it might be, nothing short of full honesty would get her where she said she wanted to be – living a happy life with Charles. When even this didn't seem to have the desired effect over the next couple of sessions, Charles thought long and hard about the situation and spoke about it with William and his sister Louisa. She and Gregory had been through their own very rough time, as had William and Elizabeth of course, and speaking with them gave him a new perspective and a greater understanding of his own wishes and needs. He reached the very difficult decision that he had no hope left for his relationship with Jane and didn't have the heart to continue trying. Whatever love he had had was gone. It would take him time, he knew, to understand why he found himself married to someone he didn't know.
When he called a halt to their therapy (a decision their counsellor agreed with, saying they were not getting anywhere) and told Jane he wanted a divorce, she was shocked and very, very upset. Regardless of whether she should have seen it coming or not, she hadn't. One of the worst parts of it – the most immediate one in any case – was having to tell Fanny.
When Jane admitted to her mother that Charles had ended their attempt to reconcile and was speaking of divorce, she was furious at Charles certainly, but also at Jane. Fortunately Rupert was in the room (Jane had had enough foresight to tell her parents together). He simply sighed and shook his head. Fanny unleashed all of her disappointment directly onto Jane.
"How could this have happened?" Fanny demanded. "What did you do? What did he say?"
"Fanny..." Rupert said wearily. It was weak though in the face of Fanny's anger.
"Mum," Jane said prepared to use the statements she has decided upon before her journey to Longbourn.
"This should never have happened! Obviously you didn't do as I said, didn't do what I told you to or this never would..."
"Oh be quiet woman! She would have been better off doing the exact opposite of anything you suggested. Jane," Rupert said the name loudly to drown out Fanny's voice, "I am sorry. I hope, in time, you learn something from this experience."
Jane wanted to run from the room and ignore both of them. Her life was a mess and there was nothing she could do about it. She had tried, she really had, but it hadn't been enough for Charles. What did he expect? And now Fanny was blathering away at her, demanding answers she just didn't have.
"I told you months ago you had to get him away from that so-called friend of his. You know what he's like, he won't even let Lizzie visit her family, not that I care..."
Her last words were overshadowed by Rupert's raised voice. "Do not say a word against either Elizabeth or her husband. None of us need to be exposed to your bitterness that Elizabeth has everything you dreamed of - and wanted to have through Jane - and she did it all without your infamous advice!"
Fanny yelled at him in reply and Jane sat paralysed waiting for it to be over just as she had when she was younger. In a minute, Rupert stalked out of the room after telling Jane he would be in his library and she should come talk to him (she didn't).
Fanny continued to mutter, chastising Jane and criticising Elizabeth. She didn't leave Rupert out of her complaints either. She was, as Rupert said, bitter about what she saw as Elizabeth's success. She had a rich, very rich according to her current knowledge, husband and was constantly in the news (the news that mattered to Fanny, meaning the society pages). It had been terrible after that party in September (and hosted by an Earl! And the Duke of -- had been there!). All of their neighbours had been buzzing about it. As if there weren't more important things in the world than Miss Lizzie's custom-made ring and designer gown. And what did she care if Elizabeth was purportedly developing some grand scheme about children and teaching them about the environment? What was so exciting about that?
Jane heard every word Fanny said and it didn't help to lessen her jealousy of Elizabeth. It didn't seem fair to her that Elizabeth had everything she had always dreamed of, everything Fanny had told her she could and should have. Lizzie never even tried! Over and over Elizabeth had said that she didn't care that she didn't have more boyfriends like Jane did (Jane had never really believed her sister) and then, after Jane and Charles met, for months Elizabeth had said she wasn't even interested in finding someone. She didn't make herself available, she refused to compromise to accommodate someone else's needs the way Jane was willing to, and yet Elizabeth was the one that had it all now, everything that mattered and then some. She was happy and away from this. Jane's last thought was bitter. She's run away from it all yet again, leaving me behind to deal with it all and it has cost me Charles. I've always been the good one, the one to play by the rules. Where is my reward for it? She could – wouldn't – recognise that she, too, could have removed herself from Longbourn if she had wanted to; instead she blamed Elizabeth for 'leaving them behind' and 'selfishly living her life away from her family'.
Her envy allowed her to attach blame - at least partial - to her sister and William. The other person at fault was Charles, of course. He was supposed to be loyal to her, to stay with her, to see their dreams come true. Instead he had said it was a mistake and that they could never get back what they had had. He even said, "If it was ever real in the first place." What a slap in the face that had been.
Well, she was not going to make this easy for him. She would not consent to a divorce. If he was so determined to leave her and, as she thought, let some ridiculous misunderstandings and the behaviour of others ruin all that they could have, then he would have to wait a long time for his freedom. Fanny agreed with her, saying it was right that she shouldn't. Jane didn't agree with Fanny's reasoning that it would somehow 'show' him and Elizabeth and William that they couldn't get away with treating her this way.
What Jane still, secretly hoped was that given more time, Charles would realise what he was giving up and they would naturally find their way together again. It had been so simple at the start, when they met and just knew they were meant for each other. It could happen again. He hadn't been bothered by her parents' particular way of doing things then, not until Elizabeth and William started to make such a big ordeal of it all and sending her (Jane's) life into a tailspin. Without a lot of fuss going on around them - including the ridiculous waste of time that was marital counselling - he would again realise it wasn't such a big deal, at least not in comparison to what they could have together. The upset would be forgotten and they could get back to living what they had dreamed about – their own fairy tale ending.
Jane gratefully escaped Longbourn a half hour later, citing work she had to do in preparation for a meeting the next morning. She had to promise Fanny she would stay at least a week over the holidays and that yes of course she would help with the church party. It was, after all, a Bennet family tradition. Her promises had calmed Fanny's ire a little and that, for Jane, was a small victory.
William and Elizabeth did their best to support Charles as he faced the final failure of his marriage. He found comfort in their company and followed their example by speaking with a psychologist. It would help him, over time, understand how he had gone wrong and to accept his inability to help Jane as he had hoped he would be able to do.
Before they knew it the holiday season was upon them. It was full of social obligations and whenever it seemed too much, they soothed themselves with thoughts of Christmas. Christmas Eve and Day they would spend at Pemberley with Mrs Reynolds, Charles, Georgiana and the Gardiners. In the fortnight before Christmas they spent time with Catherine and Mary (who would spend Christmas itself at Longbourn), Alexander Halsley and Sterling and Rebecca. They also saw many of their friends and attended gatherings at work and with various social contacts. There was a lot of cheer in the air, despite a certain sadness associated with the Fitzwilliam gathering; it was one year ago that Philip Fitzwilliam died. Once Georgiana was in London for the holiday season, the Fitzwilliams, Georgiana, William and Elizabeth gathered and had a small memorial for him as well as a quiet Christmas celebration. Margaret had learned to be polite to Elizabeth, although no one was fooled into believing she would ever like or accept Elizabeth's role in the family.
Three days before Christmas, and the day before they were to leave for Pemberley, William and Elizabeth sat in the library after dinner sorting through that day's post. Georgiana was out with Richard for the evening. They had received a great many holiday cards and while shuffling through a stack of them, Elizabeth froze. She had been in the middle of saying something and not only did her hand stop moving, so did her mouth.
"Elizabeth?" William said, startled by the sudden silence. He looked at her from his position in a chair across from her.
She put all but the envelope in her hand on the table next to the tea tray. In a shocked voice she said, "It's from my father."
They knew from Mary and Catherine that Rupert continued to take steps to improve his relationships with them and to control Fanny and Lydia's behaviour. Elizabeth was glad to hear it for her sisters' sake and yet she had not felt inclined to resume contact with him. She and William were happy and busy and surrounded by people who loved them and they were thinking of their life, their family and their future. Dealing with the Bennets – other than her contact with her two sisters – seemed like a minefield and she just wasn't interested.
"I can toss it into the fire," William offered.
Elizabeth said nothing at first as she continued to stare at the envelope. After a long minute, she shook her head. "I think I should see what he has to say. Or at least see if there is anything to read. Maybe it is just a signed holiday card." Even as she said it, she knew that wasn't the case; Rupert Bennet would not bother to send her a card just to say 'Happy Christmas'.
She opened the envelope and unfolded the sheet of notepaper as William moved from the chair to sit at her side on the sofa. She read through it silently; William did the same.
My dear Elizabeth,
It has now been over six months since that day I went to London to see you. How much has changed since then. At the time, I had every expectation that I could march into your house and demand to talk to you and even, I admit, to tell you what you should do. Now, as I write these words, I don't even know if you will read them. You might toss the envelope – unopened – into the rubbish bin or perhaps you will let William read this for you lest it contain any upsetting words. I suppose, as much as I do not like to admit it, that I would understand if you did so. And yet, I had to write. Perhaps it is another sign of my selfishness; I am not thinking of you and how it might upset you and your happiness – your sisters Mary and Kate tell me that you are indeed very happy, for which I am glad. No, I am not thinking of you; I am thinking of me and my wish to talk to you and to explain what I have come to realise. If perchance you do read this and gain some comfort or satisfaction from it, then I have achieved more than I could reasonably expect, but less than I hope.
Your words to me last April were extremely painful, but not entirely undeserved. You had every right to accuse me as you did and to censure me regarding my failings. I know they have been many. It will be a heavy burden that I carry with me, the thought – the knowledge – that I failed my girls especially you, my most special of daughters and the one who most needed me to be a better man. Forcing me to face that, to finally truly listen to and acknowledge the consequences of my weaknesses was the greatest gift you could have given me. I did not realise this that truly horrific day, but now, with the span of months behind me, I do.
It was your words about Lydia that galvanised me and that provided a focal point for the bitter anger and disappointment I felt as I left your home and left you in the care of a man who knows and cares for you better than ever I did. You know how I have acted these past months. At first, I will admit because you deserve nothing but the full truth from me, I did act out of anger. I was disgusted with what I learned of Lydia's behaviour and not a little terrified. How could she not know the danger into which she placed herself with her reckless behaviour? Later I was able to gain a different perspective on the matter, and my disgust grew to include myself. I spent so much time hiding out, away from my family, seeking an escape from what my life had become and in that way failed not only Lydia – I should have realised, I should have cared more to know, what she was doing with her life – but all of you.
I lashed out at Fanny and Lydia from the moment I returned from London. I used the only weapon I have – money. The fact that it has, in part, been effective is more by chance than by careful thought and planning on my part. It seems Fanny's status around town has been tarnished of late and the town folk have tired of listening to her gossip especially when she so assiduously praises those that do not deserve it – Jane and Lydia – and ignores or outright slurs those that have never done anything to deserve such treatment – you, William, Mary and Kate. And now Charles, the poor man; I must add him to my list.
Lydia I have some little hope for. She at least is applying herself, if not diligently, to her studies. I know she does this only to maintain my financial support, but I can trust she is learning something that will help her in the long run. I know she cannot wait to complete this programme she is doing so that she can flee Longbourn, perhaps never to return. I am not sure what else I can do for her other than to hope she will, by the time that happens, have better skills for managing her life than she does at present.
Fanny. I wish I could say that I had hope that she will learn something – anything – from her recent experiences, but it would be dishonest of me to say so. Why, you might ask, do I not make her leave or at least encourage her to do so? I suppose if need be I could find the money to support her in a separate establishment, but I can't ask her to leave. She is my responsibility. Perhaps if I had made different choices when you were a child, I would have been able to help her see a different path for her life and she would, today, be a better person. Or perhaps there was never anything I could have done. I will never know and, again being honest, I will not worry over much about it. She is what she is and I have no interest in trying to argue her into something different. Divorce is out of the question and by her being here I can, at least, monitor her activities. I read my words and note that they sound weak and even perhaps irrational, but there it is; Fanny is my hair shirt, my cross to bear, and I will continue to do so.
In April as you know I reached out to Mary and Kate. You suggested I should, that I still had a chance to give them what they needed. I followed your suggestion. I would like to say that I did it because I was thinking of the well-being of my two girls, but that would be a lie. I'd even like to say that I was thinking of Longbourn, of what will happen to my family's heritage when I am gone, but that, too would be a lie. I am ashamed to say this because it is so very unfair to them. I used them. I took your words and told myself that if I did this – if I tried to be a better father to them – you would approve and that, perhaps, might make you think more kindly of me. You might change your mind and allow me a place in your life if I allowed them a place in mine.
I do not know if either of them know or suspect that truth. I hope that they don't and that they never do. I started my journey with them for your sake, but then was surprised by what I found. I came to know them and in so doing have found more than I ever expected or could have hoped. Now at least I can say that what I am doing – when I talk to them and plan for their future and try to protect them from the worst of Fanny's behaviour – I am doing for them. For two of my girls at least I can be a father; I do not say a father they can be proud of, but perhaps at least one they can trust to do his best. I have no expectation that I will always succeed in my endeavours, but am trying for them, and, selfishly, for me. To my surprise, I find that I enjoy feeling useful to them and even at times excited by the possibilities before us. They are feelings that I cling to and that I try to nurture; they will be my comfort in my old age.
And so, Elizabeth, we come to the last. I could end this missive with apologies and attempts to explain myself, but I don't think you need any of that. As you said so clearly, you don't need me. I cannot help hoping – and I will not apologise for this – that nonetheless one day you might amend your statement to my benefit. In the meantime, I will close by saying that I am truly grateful that you have found happiness.
When she was finished reading the letter, Elizabeth handed it to William so that he could finish. She stood and walked to the fireplace, keeping her back to him. When she felt him behind her, she turned and buried her face in his jumper and began to softly cry. He murmured soothing words and rubbed her back, feeling both concern and anger with Rupert for managing to once again upset her.
In several minutes, she pulled away, roughly running the backs of her hands over her cheeks. He gently pushed her hands out of the way and softly brushed her cheeks with this thumbs, drying her tears.
"Love," he whispered.
"I don't even know why I'm crying," she said, giving a short derisive laugh. She looked down or at his chest, not up into his face.
He remedied the last by tilting her chin up. "Sweetheart," he said. His eyes asked what he could not find the words for: Was she okay? What was she thinking and feeling?
She took a deep breath, slowly releasing it and then leaned into him once again. She wrapped her arms around his back and took comfort in the feel of his strong, warm body.
"I'm all right," she said. "It's sad. This whole situation is just plain sad; including Charles and Jane and the mess that is becoming."
He kissed the top of her head and continued to hold her close.
Rupert's letter may have dampened Elizabeth's holiday cheer for the evening, but by the next morning, when they were set to leave for Pemberley, she had re-ignited it in full force. She and William had spent a good long time talking about the letter and had concluded that there was, at this time at least, nothing to do. She didn't want to do anything other than move ahead with their lives – their holidays and William's birthday and a New Year which she was determined to start on a high note. She knew she would need time to absorb and think about Rupert's words and how she felt about his attempts at reform, but it wasn't a matter she would allow to upset her especially at Christmas; her responsibility was not to him, but to William and their family.
Charles came by in time for breakfast. He and Georgiana would make the drive to Pemberley in his car while William and Elizabeth went in theirs; they wanted to be at Pemberley in time for lunch. The Gardiners were scheduled to meet them later in the afternoon in Lambton. William and Elizabeth, with Mrs Reynolds' great assistance, were hosting a party at The Bell that afternoon. Mrs Reynolds was very excited that all of them would be there for the holidays and had been on the phone with Elizabeth and William repeatedly making plans and discussing suggestions both for the town party and, more particularly, for the family stay.
Elizabeth and William insisted Mr Mallon and Mrs Northmore sit down with them and have at least a cup of tea before they all went their separate ways. They were off for holidays as well. Mr Mallon would be spending a few days with his brother and his family. Their relationship had been strained until an accident the previous year had resulted in Mr Mallon's sister-in-law turning to him for help. He and his brother were not yet on the best of terms, but they were trying. After visiting with them, he would be going on a holiday to Spain with Ms Anderson – his friend and Elizabeth's long-ago-neighbour. Mrs Northmore was spending the holidays with her sister and niece and her family.
William and Elizabeth made it to Pemberley slightly ahead of Charles and Georgiana (they had had to make a quick second stop for a loo visit). The trip had been enjoyable in both cars, but it was William and Elizabeth's which was more jovial. Elizabeth was bubbling with excitement. William loved to see her so happy and it was infectious. By the time they arrived at the manor house, William was smiling broadly and laughing. Mrs Reynolds, who quickly ushered them into the warmth of the house, was very glad to see her boy and Elizabeth in such a mood.
"Come in, come in!" she cried, standing to the side of the door.
William and Elizabeth did as she suggested, grabbing some of their bags from the car. In addition to personal belongings, they also had gifts.
After exchanging hugs and cheek kisses, Mrs Reynolds said, "I have the fire lit in the front sitting room. Go on through and I'll bring the tea tray. Georgiana texted and said they should be here within oh ten minutes or so now." When they hesitated, she shooed them away, telling them to go look at the Christmas tree. It was in the room to which she was sending them, waiting for them to decorate it.
William took Elizabeth's hand in his and led the way. As they traversed the distance between rooms, they took in the decorations with which Mrs Reynolds had already adorned their living spaces. There was ample greenery, Christmas flowers and decorative accessories (some of them quite old). The tree, even though still bare, was the highlight. Elizabeth had spoken to Eric Bryant (Pemberley's land manager) about selecting a tree. She and William didn't want to forego the tradition and Eric had assured her that he and his staff would find an appropriate tree in one of the estate's woodlots. They undertook 'active management' as needed and could (and did) find a tree in a spot they wished to thin out, to encourage more understory growth in the spring. The tree would be turned into wood chips and used in the gardens.
"Oh, it's beautiful!" Elizabeth exclaimed when they entered the room which smelt of evergreen. The fire crackled and the room looked and felt warm and inviting. She pulled William over to take a closer look at the tree.
"Yes, it is." He put an arm around her shoulders and kissed the side of her head as she slipped her arm about his waist and leaned into him.
"It's going to be a wonderful Christmas," she said, sighing contentedly.
William smiled and nodded as he turned so that they stood toe-to-toe. With their arms fully around each other, they smiled and then shared a light kiss.
They were still standing in this position, exchanging soft words and kisses, when Mrs Reynolds, Charles (carrying the tea tray) and Georgiana entered.
"Hey you two! Enough, enough!" Charles cried, laughing as he deposited the tray on the large table in the middle of the main seating area. "They are always like this," he said to Mrs Reynolds, rolling his eyes.
She smiled indulgently at Charles and sat down, preparing to 'play Mother' and distribute the tea.
"Oh, it's beautiful!" Georgiana said and bounced over to join her brother and Elizabeth. "Look at it! Oh I can't wait to decorate. You are going to love seeing the old decorations, Elizabeth."
She stopped by William's side and the three of them turned to look at the tree again as William draped his arms around his sister and his wife. The past months had been very good to Georgiana and she looked and sounded (and was) stronger and happier than she had been for a long, long time. It was wonderful for William who could, he felt, relinquish some of his worry. Elizabeth and Georgiana's arms met behind William's back.
Charles tapped Mrs Reynolds' arm and nodded towards the scene by the tree. She smiled and tears of joy and relief formed in her eyes. Charles gave her a kiss on the cheek and she patted his hand; she may no longer have reason to fret about William, Elizabeth and Georgiana (or not very much), but she did worry about Charles. He sat by her side and engaged her in cheerful conversation, however, and as he seemed determined to be happy, she would follow his lead.
When they were all sitting together, enjoying the hot tea and a few Christmas treats, they spoke about the rest of the day. They would have a quick lunch and leave for Lambton in the early afternoon. It was Elizabeth and Mrs Reynolds who, in a conversation in October, launched the idea of this afternoon's party. Elizabeth thought it would be fun (and appropriate) for the family to host a celebration for the people of the nearby town. There were many who lived in Lambton who worked on or for the estate. Hosting a party at the house was discussed as an option, but they decided on The Bell as more central (and thus easier to get to for most people at this busy time of year) and, frankly, less bothersome for the party planners. They would host an open party on the estate in the spring when guests could enjoy the outside spaces as well as some of the inside ones.
The party was family-oriented, but they tried to have something for everyone. There was lots of food, silly activities for the children (which Susan and David Gardiner were only too happy to join), opportunities to talking – including with William and Elizabeth – for the older folks and even little, eco-friendly gifts to take home. It was very merry and a way for William and Elizabeth to contribute to the community.
Christmas Eve was spent primarily preparing for the next day. Mrs Reynolds and Elizabeth did a lot of cooking and baking, aided by Georgiana who wished to learn to make at least a few things. The other adults amused the children and relaxed in the library and wrapped presents and nibbled on holiday treats. The highlight of the day was decorating the Christmas tree. Georgiana was right; Elizabeth adored looking through the Darcy family collection of decorations and hearing the stories associated with them. On their last visit to Italy, she and William had found a unique ornament to add to the collection. After dinner they watched a silly Christmas film (with more promised for the next day), before Madeline and Edmund undertook the almost impossible task of getting their two very excited children to settle down for the night.
William and Elizabeth were up late that night, sitting in front of a fire in their bedroom. They snuggled under a blanket on the sofa. They spoke of the day and the added element of chaos and merriment that came with having two children as part of the festivities. Elizabeth mentioned her celebration, with the Gardiner family, in London the previous year.
"It was not as miserable as it could have been," she said. "I was pretty miserable, as much as I tried to deny it. They were so bubbly and excited that it made a huge difference. That and not being anywhere near Longbourn. I remember anticipating New Year's so much. I spent weeks telling myself that when it came, it would mark a new beginning for me, that I would really move on and get my life under control. I'm very, very happy with what the New Year did bring; you and me and as hard as it was at first, I am so, so happy with how things did work out." She smiled lovingly at him and gave him a soft kiss while gently caressing his face.
He encouraged her to rest her head on his shoulder. They sat and looked at the fire. After a moment, he spoke. "Christmas last year was horrible. It was always going to be miserable, but then with Uncle Philip's death…I was trying, though, I was slowly, too slowly, starting to think that there might be another way. Uncle Philip told me that; he told me I think it was at the start of December when he came to me and told me that I didn't have to lose you, that I should fix whatever it was I had done. I wanted to. I was starting to believe it was possible, but it was still so hard for me to take that first step."
Elizabeth furrowed her brow as she listened to him. She ran a hand over his chest, trying to offer a measure of comfort as he relived the dreadful memories. "We're together now, my love," she whispered. "That is all in the past."
She felt him nod and he kissed the top of her head. There was a long period of silence, broken ultimately by William's low chuckle.
Elizabeth lifted her head and smiled at him, asking what was making him laugh.
"I was thinking about two years ago, the first Christmas that I knew you, or rather right before Christmas. We were in Meryton, do you remember? Charles and I went and there was that party at the church and then at Netherfield. I was determined – absolutely determined – to find a way to talk to you. I wanted to when you came to the BGD party, but I didn't manage to that night. I promised myself I would get you alone for a few minutes."
Elizabeth laughed and William did as well, shaking his head and mocking himself. "What an idiot I was. I should have just asked you out then, weeks before then. But no, I had to do battle with myself."
"I'd say everything has worked out pretty well, despite our slow and often bumpy start," Elizabeth said. She moved closer and they kissed. It started off light, but quickly deepened. They stopped talking about Christmases past and started making new holiday memories, ones that they would be happy to relive over and over again in the years to come.
It came as no surprise that Christmas day was loud, chaotic and tremendous fun. All of them met early in the morning around the tree to unwrap gifts. David and Susan had hot chocolate to drink while the adults had tea or coffee and they all munched on pastries and muffins. Many of the gifts were symbolic (donations to various charitable organisations), but there were others as well. Edible treats and books and jumpers were particularly popular among the adults. There were more for Susan and David. Georgiana giggled and glowed with delight when gifts for her two kittens were discovered under the tree as well. (They were being cared for by Mrs Kaynard who had remained in Edinburgh for the holidays to celebrate with family.)
After a very filling breakfast they whiled away the day. The adults bathed and dressed for the day. Madeline enjoyed a long, luxurious soak in the bath; it was something for which she rarely had time. After a light lunch (to leave room in their stomachs for their Christmas feast), Elizabeth led a walk out on the grounds. Charles, William and Georgiana joined her and the two children; they were given nuts to scatter as a special treat to any critters brave enough to come out of their cozy nests and dens. Christmas films played all afternoon in the media room for those who wanted.
Preparing the feast was a joint effort and everyone took part in one way or another which made it all the more special as well as meaning they all had a chance to relax and enjoy the day as well. They spent a long time sitting around the table eating until they could eat no longer and then dividing up the work of clearing away and preparing for after dinner entertainments. The latter consisted of music for the most part. Georgiana and Elizabeth played duets. In addition to playing her flute, Elizabeth pulled out her guitar and, with Georgiana still on the piano, they played Christmas carols to which they all sang along (except for William; he was content to watch and appreciate). Georgiana and Susan played a few piano duets as well.
As he was saying goodnight, young David Gardiner told William, very seriously, "This has been the best Christmas ever. I'm glad you joined our family."
The Gardiner clan left on Boxing Day to go to Madeline's family. Those remaining at Pemberley spent their time doing whatever they wanted. Charles had moments of melancholy, but on the whole William and Elizabeth were happy to see that he remained cheerful. In some ways, he was doing even better than he had been a month or two earlier when he was struggling to make his relationship with Jane better. It was difficult, but he was accepting of the fact that it was over. Jane's decision to drag out the divorce proceedings weighed on him, but he would let his lawyer deal with it and, frankly, he would find a way to be patient if he had to, but he would also move on with his life.
On the 30th of December they celebrated Charles and William's birthdays. The date was Charles' actual birthday, but as he, Georgiana and Mrs Reynolds wouldn't be there on 2nd January, they decided to have a family celebration for both men on the same day. Their one special request (aside from the chocolate almond torte Charles asked Mrs Reynolds to bake) was a concert and so Elizabeth and Georgiana played for them for as long as their fingers cooperated.
The following morning, William and Elizabeth sent Mrs Reynolds, Charles and Georgiana off to Italy to enjoy their villa. They would return in a week. With many of Pemberley's staff on holiday, it meant the house was quiet which is just what William wanted. He and Elizabeth would celebrate the start of a new year and his birthday quietly and together. It would be the first, proper, celebratory one they had spent together and it also marked their six month wedding anniversary and two years since he first asked her out.
"Alone at last!" William said. Mrs Reynolds, Charles and Georgiana had just left. They were being driven to the airport in Sheffield by a local service. Charles had insisted on the arrangements rather than accepting William's suggestion that he drive them.
Elizabeth laughed and put her arms around his body. "Don't try to fool me into thinking you haven't loved every minute of the past week!"
He smiled down at her and kissed the tip of her nose. "Okay, I won't." He had cherished the time with their loved ones. "This was easily the best Christmas ever, as Davy said."
"Mm," Elizabeth agreed still smiling. She stood on her toes and gave him a quick kiss.
"However," he said, "I am still very pleased to have you to myself for the next few days." They had to return to London the day after his birthday.
"And we get to celebrate your birthday properly for once!" she said.
William nodded as he looked down into her bright eyes. He let his love flood him and felt such a deep contentment and happiness that it almost knocked him off his feet.
"And our anniversary," he said softly.
"Six months," Elizabeth said as she smiled up at him. Every ounce of love he felt she shared. "It has been the most magnificent half year. I love you so very, very much."
This deserved a kiss and she received a long one. He rested his forehead on hers and spoke.
"It has. I never knew..." Words failed him as they did far too frequently for his liking.
"That life could be like this," Elizabeth said.
He nodded. They spent a few more minutes murmuring words of happiness and holding each other.
"What would you like to do on this last day of this most eventful of years?" Elizabeth asked.
William looked at her for a moment considering. He then broke their embrace and, taking her hand, led her to the big kitchen table gesturing for her to sit down while he made them tea. They discussed several options, deciding ultimately to drive into Lambton for lunch and to wander around the main street for a little while. They would then return to Pemberley and have a quiet New Year's Eve, ringing in the New Year in the best possible way - in each other's arms.
William and Elizabeth had a wonderfully slow start on New Year's Day. They had nowhere to go and no obligations and planned to bask in every moment of it. Elizabeth did have one obligation of a sort; William had selected a special menu for the next day and she wanted to get some of the preparation done ahead of time.
They spent the morning in front of a roaring fireplace in the library, sitting on the sofa, reading. After lunch Elizabeth spent a bit of time cooking and then they sat in the media room and started to re-watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy. They didn't usually indulge in long stretches of television watching, but it felt like the perfect diversion for the day and they continued long into the evening. They had to pause to fix dinner, but they brought it - and then snacks - into the room so that they could watch while eating. William opened up a bottle of wine and they used it to toast events and people in the films, laughing at their silliness.
Eventually neither of them felt they could hold their eyes open much longer and they went to bed.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth did not wake up first on William's birthday. He had done so at hers, when they were in Italy, and had awakened her in a most delightful manner. But on this day, William woke and watched Elizabeth for a long time before she began to stir.
He didn't mind at all. He loved moments like this, when he could just look at her and think and feel. There was something very peaceful about it. She was beautiful, to him the most beautiful sight in the world. She was lying on her stomach, her face turned towards him and one hand balled up under her chin. He traced her features with his eyes, using his fingers only to gently brush a strand of her long, dark hair off of her face. She softly breathed in and out, her pink lips slight parted. He looked at the light freckles that ran in a random mess over her nose and cheekbones. They were muted in the winter months, but still added warmth to her skin tone. And the long lashes at the end of her eyelids, hiding the brilliance behind them.
Oh how he loved her!
He couldn't help thinking back to his last birthday or even the one before that when he had sought her out at her Global Nature office. It had marked the start of their relationship and had been the best gift he could give himself. Or so he thought at the time. In retrospect, the best was last year. It was on this day - his last birthday - when Elizabeth had returned to him. He was at peace with the knowledge that she, acting out of anger and fear, had planned to walk away from him. She hadn't and he had, in the ensuing weeks and months, done what he never thought possible - he faced his deepest, most hurtful scars and healed them. It was only possible because of her, because she stood by him and loved him and fought for him and for their love.
He remembered the lows of the year. There was the awful day at Longbourn when Elizabeth had run from the house and finally admitted her deep-seated fears that she wasn't, as she said, good enough. Ultimately it had been for the best that she was pushed to that point, she told him more than once. It made her look at herself and her parents and in so doing - and because of him - she had found the courage to say 'no more'.
There had been so many trying times. Struggling with therapy and the necessity of feeling – of acknowledging and accepting – the pain of losing his parents and the anger and loneliness and, especially, the paralysing fear that he would lose Elizabeth. Georgiana represented another struggle - her outburst at Pemberley in February and then coping with all she had revealed in May. She was doing so much better now and would continue to improve. Charles was going through a dreadful time, but he would pull through; William would make sure of it.
Most marvellously and importantly he and Elizabeth had made it past the dark times and had emerged strong and unbreakable. It had taken time for them to grow together as a couple, but the rewards were indescribable. Six months ago they had married on the most perfect day of his life. They had been surrounded by love as they promised themselves to each other and celebrated their future.
The first six months of that future were now behind them. They had merged their lives, developed a network of friends and family and laid the ground work for a lifestyle that blended dealing with their responsibilities and always finding time for each other, building their bond, nurturing the present and dreaming of the future. He would do anything for her and to ensure that the future they dreamed of came true. He knew she would say the same and that knowledge filled him with strength.
Elizabeth stirred, sighing and stretching as she rolled onto her side. Her eyes opened a crack and she saw him looking down at her. She smiled and reached out to caress his cheek.
"Will..." she said her voice heavy with sleep. "Happy birthday, my love." She pulled his head down to hers and they kissed.
His face positioned several inches from hers he looked into her beautiful eyes and saw all of the love he felt for her reflected back at him.
He whispered, "I know what I want for my birthday. I want us to have a baby."
Chapter 99. Rosalind Anne Darcy
Posted on 2011-03-01
William and Elizabeth sat on the sofa in their bedroom. They held hands and tried not to stare at the white stick that lay on the table in front of them. The few minutes they were supposed to wait seemed very, very long, but they were determined not to peek before it had passed.
When it was time, Elizabeth reached out and took it. She could feel William's tension through his hand and her heart rate picked up speed. She held the stick between them. It was positive.
William released a deep breath he didn't know he was holding. It was what he - they - had hoped. Elizabeth was pregnant. It was still very early; her period was only a few days late. They knew something could happen; she could miscarry again. Beyond that, he knew it would be hard, possibly very hard, for him in the coming weeks. He was confident that he would make it through her pregnancy and labour without overwhelming anxiety and that if it did get bad he had the tools to deal with it including his on-going treatment with Dr Behr. A significant difference this time, versus the unplanned pregnancy, was that the truth was no longer hidden. Elizabeth understood his fears and, with Dr Behr, they had discussed (endlessly it seemed) mechanisms for coping with them. He wanted this - he wanted it for himself and he wanted it for Elizabeth and for them as a couple.
Without even knowing how it happened, they were standing, arms around each other, quietly celebrating. He kissed the top of her head.
"I'm happy, my beautiful, wonderful, Elizabeth. I'm so happy."
The next eight and a half months passed with many highs and some lows for both William and Elizabeth and those around them. Elizabeth experienced the usual symptoms of early pregnancy – she was queasy and spent several weeks being careful about what she ate and she was very tired. It made William nervous to see her unwell, but all in all he handled it well. Elizabeth managed the situation far better than she had in the past and was patient with him, remembering always to be very open with him about how she was feeling physically and emotionally and allowing him to coddle her more than was necessary.
Even before Elizabeth was pregnant they had reached a compromise about medical care. With some reluctance, Elizabeth said goodbye to her long-time doctor, Dr Mitchell, and started to see a new, female, one who worked in collaboration with William's Dr Alderson. She was made aware of the special challenges the couple faced and handled William's concerns with delicacy and patience.
There were a few very difficult moments that found William almost in a state of panic, but they used what they had learned from Dr Behr to cope with them. They had decided, before trying to conceive, that when Elizabeth did become pregnant they would share the news with a few people – Madeline and Edmund Gardiner, Charles and Mrs Reynolds. Their support helped the couple a great deal as well. Charles in particular was very demanding of William whenever he suspected William was less than fully happy. The couple didn't go to Pemberley much when Elizabeth was experiencing the worst of her 'morning sickness' and so Mrs Reynolds came to London several times to check on them and reassure herself that all was well.
A very big high point was when, at the end of March, they were able to hear their baby's heartbeat for the first time. They celebrated at the start of May when Elizabeth was twelve weeks pregnant and an ultrasound scan showed them a healthy foetus. Her nausea and food aversions disappeared, her energy levels picked up and she and William looked forward to the spring and summer. First up would be a visit to Pemberley which would be followed by a holiday to Italy at the end of the month. On the way to Derbyshire, they would make a quick stop at Longbourn to share their news. It was their first visit since the previous summer.
While Elizabeth and William were making their way through early pregnancy, life went on without too much drama for those around them.
Charles started divorce proceedings. Jane continued to refuse to cooperate meaning it might take years for a divorce to be finalised. There was little Charles could do about that however, other than hope she would change her mind when she realised it did her no good to prolong it. She spent months not talking to Elizabeth, content to blame her sister for starting the downward spiral her life had taken since her wedding. She had to blame someone, and it certainly wasn't going to be herself. Her house was sold – at the insistence of Charles and his lawyer – and she moved into a flat closer to her work. She continued to be the 'good daughter' and listened to Fanny's complaints and gossip. After all, whom else did Fanny have and she was her mother.
Charles was doing all right. He was happy to spend time with William and Elizabeth and the social circle that formed around the couple. He took time to heal from his failed relationship with Jane and focused his energies on his company and business matters. He was also pleased to spend more time with his sister Louisa and her husband Gregory. They had overcome their marital discord and were doing well. Louisa settled down and avoided much of her old crowd. That included Caroline. Charles had little to do with this sister, and both of them were fine with the situation. According to gossip columns, Caroline Bingley was on a desperate hunt for a husband (only the wealthy need apply) and it wasn't going well.
Catherine and Mary were doing well with their studies and assured Elizabeth and William that they were getting along with Rupert. They did their best to ignore and avoid Fanny, that being the easiest way to cope with her. Mary was graduating in the spring and had decided to do a Master's degree. She would base her research on Longbourn, spending more time at the farm, but living in the guest house which had been converted into a snug flat for her.
Georgiana continued to do well. She would never be the most gregarious of women, but she was enjoying her studies and finding ways to be more involved with other people while also focusing on her recovery. She visited London regularly, putting into practice her promise to be more involved in the lives of her family. She greeted the news of impending aunt-hood happily.
Among the most excited of their family was Rebecca. Elizabeth had been worried that, given her inability to conceive a child with Sterling, Rebecca would find it difficult to hear of her pregnancy, although she didn't doubt that Rebecca would also be thrilled for her and William. Rebecca, however, content and confident in her relationship with Sterling, focused only on her happiness. She and Sterling had made peace with their inability to conceive and they continued in their quest to adopt. Richard and Victoria continued to go about their lives, interacting little with William and Elizabeth who also spent very little time with Margaret. They mostly saw her at public events where she behaved and treated Elizabeth with cold, but polite formality.
More enjoyable was time spent with the Gardiners with whom they maintained close ties. Edmund and Alexander Halsley struck up a friendship after meeting at William and Elizabeth's wedding. Halsley frequently stopped by William or Elizabeth's office at the FDF for a chat and saw them at many social events as well.
The early part of the year saw some thawing in the relationship between Elizabeth and Rupert. In late January Elizabeth sent him a note to thank him for the letter he sent her at Christmas, saying she was glad that Catherine and Mary felt more welcomed at Longbourn and that she knew they really appreciated his efforts. After this there was a little more communication between them. They progressed – at Rupert's instigation – from brief "hope you are doing well" email messages to "I read a short notice in the news about your plans at the FDF; it sounds interesting, I'd love to hear more," ones. Elizabeth took time to consider how much she was comfortable with and moved slowly and cautiously never really sure what she hoped for, but allowing herself to be open to the possibility of a relationship with Rupert.
Feeling happy and confident, William and Elizabeth decided to stop at Longbourn on their way north to Pemberley. Elizabeth sent an email message to Rupert telling him they would stop by briefly Saturday morning if he thought it was appropriate. Rupert, glad for any sign that Elizabeth wanted a place in the family (although he really thought of it in terms of his life), readily agreed. Everyone would be there - Mary and Catherine home for the weekend and Jane who felt compelled to spend almost every weekend there as she had before meeting Charles. Mary and Catherine did see William and Elizabeth regularly, although it had been some weeks. They were curious to see how the visit went; it was the first time the couple had been there since they announced the news of their wedding.
Greetings were mixed in tone. Mary and Catherine welcomed them with easy friendliness. Rupert was polite and hopeful, Lydia off-handed and bored. Jane nodded politely, but said nothing. Fanny scowled, but held her tongue and pouted. Why should she exert any effort for two who thought so little of them all? No one minded the silence emanating from her.
"We are on our way to Pemberley and thought we'd stop in to say hello," Elizabeth said as they sat down in the sitting room. "We will be in Italy at the end of the month so we've brought birthday gifts for Dad and Jane."
William passed them to the proper recipients, Jane's going via Mary who scowled at Jane's unpleasant manner.
She managed to mutter, "Thank you," and set the small parcel aside (it contained a pair of earrings).
"A book I would guess," Rupert said smiling at Elizabeth. He hadn't seen her in months and wanted to simply enjoy being in her presence again. "You know me well."
Elizabeth smiled politely in return, but could not return the warmth Rupert was trying to project. She looked at William and he nodded slightly, taking one of her hands in his.
"We also wanted to tell you that I'm pregnant," Elizabeth went on.
She got no further. Catherine leapt to her feet and exclaimed, "A baby! Liz, that's so exciting!" she threw her arms around her sister and then William. "I knew something was up when we saw you for your birthday!"
Elizabeth laughed. "We didn't want to say anything until the first trimester was over," she said quickly. There was no more time for explanations though as several others wished to offer their congratulations.
"That's great news," Mary said in her quieter way, offering her congratulations.
"How exciting," said Rupert choosing his words carefully and studying his favourite daughter carefully. He didn't bother to try to give her a kiss or shake William's hand; he thought there was a strong possibility his actions would be rejected or at least would cause awkwardness. "How are you? How far along?"
"Just about fourteen weeks," Elizabeth said. "Everything has been fine." She turned to smile at William. They were both very happy to have the first trimester behind them as it meant the risk of miscarriage was considerably lower and because she felt so much better, easing William's worries.
"Good," Rupert said. He picked up his still wrapped gift and quipped, "Maybe I should be reading up on being a grandfather."
It fell a little flat; William quickly lifted and dropped his eyebrows and Elizabeth gave a short, small smile. They all knew the question of Rupert's role in Elizabeth's life was still undecided.
There were several members of their party who had not yet had their say and the atmosphere of the room thickened with anticipation. Lydia reacted as might be expected - with bored indifference. She didn't even want to be there, but Rupert insisted and she wasn't interested in crossing him for something so unimportant.
"Cool," she said and, like Mary and Catherine looked at Jane and Fanny to witness their reaction.
Jane's reaction was muted. Inside she felt like crying. It should be me, she thought. It should be me and Charles, not them. She was trying, still hoping Charles would get over his upset, still hoping for a happily ever after with him. After all, what else did she have to look forward to? He represented the life she wanted and that she felt she deserved; if she let go of that dream, she would have to start over again and, instinctively at least, she knew it would not be easy to find another Charles. When these feelings reigned, she knew she was right to refuse her consent for a divorce; given time to let all of the upset of the past year settle, he would realise they were right for each other and come back to her. At other times her hope was replaced with anger and even bitterness about his refusal to be more reasonable and to give her what she wanted. At those times she felt just in dragging out the divorce proceedings, at making it harder for him to toss aside all that they could have had.
Today, hearing Elizabeth's news and seeing how happy she and William were, made Jane very sad and envious. She tempered her reaction however, certain they would tell Charles of every word, every nuance of their visit (he didn't ask and they didn't volunteer any such information). She elected to say a quiet, "Congratulations," and hope her mother did as she had said repeatedly she would - ignore Elizabeth and William's presence all together.
Elizabeth and William knew Jane's sentiment wasn't very sincere, but a accepted it graciously.
Fanny chose that moment, just as Jane's hopeful thought passed through her head, to mutter, "Well, you had best hope it's a boy." She sounded petulant as though somehow Elizabeth had, once again, done something deliberately provoking.
Jane blanched and closed her eyes, her head bowed.
"Why?" William demanded; it was the first word he had spoken to her that morning.
At the same time Elizabeth said, "Don't worry; if it isn't and he throws me over, I won't come to you for sympathy!" She stood and William followed, placing his hand on her back in a protective move.
"Elizabeth," Rupert said. His tone was apologetic and pleading. He didn't want her to leave enveloped in anger again, certain it would increase the distance between them just as he had some hope it was lessening.
"Don't worry," she said. "I didn't expect more from her. I think we all know William and I should leave before she finds a way to blame me for, oh I don't know, the collapse of the global economy. We have more interesting things to do with our time." Her tone was mocking, but controlled. She shook her head and, looking at William, rolled her eyes letting him know that she found it more ridiculous than upsetting.
Mary snickered audibly.
Catherine said, "I'm glad you came to tell us in person, Liz, even knowing…" She nodded towards Fanny.
Rupert looked at William and Elizabeth. "I'm taking Kate and Mary to lunch in Hertford, if they are agreeable." He looked at his two daughters who nodded; it was a common form of escape for the three of them. "I don't suppose you…?"
William replied, "We can't. We are expected in Derbyshire for a dinner party." There was plenty of time really, but he needed to know there was ample opportunity for Elizabeth to rest before they had to go out for the evening.
Elizabeth said as much, smiling at William as she said, "He takes good care of me."
"I'm glad to hear it," Rupert said. He sounded dismayed and no doubt was at the brevity of Elizabeth's visit.
Feeling some compassion for him, Elizabeth said, "I'll send an email with details and all of that."
Rupert nodded and the couple said goodbye, exchanging hugs and whispered words of congratulations and promises to talk soon with Mary and Catherine.
With that, Elizabeth and William were on their way.
Getting into the car Elizabeth said, "All in all not so bad and now we don't have to back for oh who knows how long."
"Preferably never," William muttered.
"It may very well work out that way!" Elizabeth laughed. "I emailed the news to Charlotte this morning. No doubt she will tell her mother who will spread it all over Meryton; that seems to be the chief form of news sharing. Ever since her friendship with Fanny collapsed, Connie Lucas seems to delight in sticking it to her. I'm sure she'll find a way to do it again. She'll make sure everyone is thrilled for us and that will make Fanny miserable. Not that that was my purpose in telling Charlotte, but I do like to know she can't use me in any way to get leverage with people."
William rolled his eyes and concentrated on getting them headed in the right direction. The matter of Fanny was forgotten. "There should be plenty of time for you to have a lie down this afternoon before we have to go out."
Elizabeth smiled and patted his thigh. "I feel fine, you know. That," she waved vaguely to indicate their stopover at Longbourn, "didn't bother me in the least."
He nodded. He could tell from her manner that she wasn't perturbed. "You still need to rest," he insisted.
Elizabeth smiled lovingly at him. "All right; I'll lie down if you join me."
Keeping his eyes pointed on the road, he smiled and chuckled. "You have to rest."
Elizabeth laughed; it was low and throaty. "Well Mr Darcy, there's rest and then there's rest."
He smiled and shook his head. When he had the chance, he took her hand in his and pulled it to his mouth for a kiss. "I love you, Elizabeth."
"And I am absolutely mad about you, my darling Will."
"I am so ready for this baby to be born!" Elizabeth lamented. She had been doing so regularly for the past week. It was now two days past her due date. She felt fine and the pregnancy continued without problems of any sort, but she was ready to move on. She and William were in their bedroom. It was morning and she had just emerged from the shower. William was already dressed. He was working from home to be close by Elizabeth in these final days.
The second trimester had been relatively free of stress and came with a lot of highlights. Elizabeth and William had delighted in watching her body change and her bump grow. Her energy levels were good and her appetite voracious as her body seemed intent on making up for its earlier dislike of food. They took holidays including lots of visits to Pemberley and meeting up with Trevor and Adam in northern New England for a week in July. The two men already planned to visit London the next year after Baby Darcy was born.
One of the best moments was the first time William was able to feel their baby move. He carefully laid his head on Elizabeth's belly as she ran her fingers lightly and lovingly through his hair, as he felt their baby squirming about. They were lying in bed and remained there for hours, laughing, talking and loving.
As Elizabeth`s pregnancy progressed, it had become more difficult for William, especially as they approached the last six weeks and the reality of labour and delivery set in. They spent a good deal of time developing a birth plan and discussing what would happen, what warning signs Elizabeth's doctor and midwife would look for and what they would do if they encountered them. On the one hand it seemed morbid especially given how well Elizabeth progressed through pregnancy. On the other, however, William found the knowledge empowering. He knew nothing was likely to go wrong, but he also knew that if it did, there were ways to deal with it. He promised himself, time and again, that he would be strong for Elizabeth and not give into his fears and anxieties. Now, just past her due date, she was very ready to move on and meet her baby and most of all to not being pregnant any longer.
Elizabeth saw the flash of disquiet cross his face at her words. He was holding up well, but she knew part of him dreaded the prospect of her giving birth despite all of their preparations. She walked over, stood before him as he sat on the sofa, wrapped her arms around his neck and rested her forehead on his.
"You know both the baby and I are doing well, love," she said soothingly. She had seen her doctor just the day before. "I am looking forward to meeting our baby though, aren't you?"
"And I am looking forward to being able to move properly again and lie on my stomach and not pee every twenty minutes and to being able to hold you properly." She chuckled; they had both grumbled about how hard it was to hug with a big bump coming between them.
William was determined that Elizabeth's attention not be on him and whatever he was feeling or fretting over, not at this time when she needed to focus on her own well-being and on doing what she had to do to make it through labour and delivery as easily as possible.
"I'm doing all right; really," he said.
Elizabeth pulled her head away and looked at him carefully.
"Well enough," he said. "You are not to worry about me."
They kissed. Elizabeth's bump was pressed against him and soon he could sense the little jumps that indicated Baby Darcy had the hiccups - again.
Elizabeth laughed and stood back, rubbing her belly. "I think that is his or her way of saying they want food. A true Darcy!"
William smiled although there was still some stress in his eyes. "Okay. Let's see what Mrs Northmore has for you."
Derek stopped by later that morning and Elizabeth passed along a message to Dani that she was doing well, just anxious to 'get on with things'. After lunch, William insisted Elizabeth rest (she didn't object). She had a nap, falling asleep as William massaged her sore back. He remained by her side, reading as he sat up in bed, and so was there when she woke up and said, "Oh." She placed a hand on her belly and took a deep breath.
"Elizabeth?" William said. He studied her carefully, alarm on his face.
After releasing a deep breath, she said. "A contraction; stronger than the others I've been having."
Over the next few hours it became clear that Elizabeth was in labour. She spoke to her midwife and doctor on the phone several times (as did William) and followed their advice to go for a walk and later to take a bath or shower to see how these activities affected the progress of her contractions. William remained by her side constantly and the house buzzed with anticipation. Mrs Reynolds was in London, but she largely stayed out of their way. She was the designated contact person and when given the word that William and Elizabeth were headed for the hospital, rang Madeline and Edmund as well as Charles and Rebecca with the news that the birth of Baby Darcy was imminent.
They knew it could take hours, but Mrs Reynolds insisted she would follow them to the hospital, agreeing ultimately to wait until Charles could come by and go with her. Rebecca and Sterling were both recovering from a viral infection (not serious) and wouldn't risk going to the hospital and, much to Rebecca's chagrin in particular, hadn't even seen Elizabeth in a fortnight to avoid passing along the infection she had.
It was a long evening and night. Elizabeth progressed steadily through labour and her caregivers assured William (and her) that she was doing wonderfully. She had elected natural childbirth and it was hard for William to see her in pain, but he had agreed with her preference. He channelled all of his worry into doing whatever she needed – rubbing her back, holding her hand, letting her lean on him – and took great comfort each time Elizabeth and the baby's vitals were checked and he was told they were perfectly normal. Time passed very much in a haze for the couple and Elizabeth in particular had no concept of how many hours had passed before she was told she was ready to move into the delivery phase. Elizabeth took the brief respite from contractions to assure William she felt all right, considering.
"It's hard; it hurts and I'm tired, but I feel…like it is all exactly as it is supposed to be."
He was only able to nod and kiss her hair; he didn't trust himself to speak, not that he knew what he would say if he did.
As Elizabeth pushed William again remained by her side doing whatever was necessary and continuing to seek comfort in the ease and confidence projected by the various medical staff. It took almost two hours before the baby crowned and, soon after that a little head appeared, followed by a shoulder and arm and then, at last, a squirming, wet little person was placed on Elizabeth's chest.
Both she and William stared at it momentarily as if stunned.
"Oh, oh," Elizabeth said, tears pooling in her eyes as she reached out to touch her baby for the first time. "Hello little one."
William's hand joined hers and he bent over to rest his head on Elizabeth's. He was breathing deeply and Elizabeth could feel that his hand was shaking. There were other hands as well, checking on the baby, covering its head and body with a hat and blanket and saying words neither of the new parents heard.
Elizabeth looked at William as he lifted his head. "Is it…?"
"It's a girl," he said and his voice broke. "It's a little girl."
While one hand still held onto her baby, Elizabeth reached out to cup William's face, her thumb brushing aside a tear. He looked down into her bright, wet, shiny eyes and saw a new joy in them. He kissed her softly and then bestowed a first, even softer one, on the head of his baby.
William sat in a chair by the head of the bed. Elizabeth looked at the baby, who was staring back at her, and gently caressed her cheek with the tip of her index finger.
"She's so beautiful," Elizabeth whispered with all of the wonder and awe of a new parent.
It was too much for William. Tears of overwhelming relief and happiness quickly over-spilled his eyes and he buried his head on Elizabeth's shoulder. She let him cry, soothing his hair with one awkwardly placed hand while she crooned words of love and reassurance.
"I'm fine, my love, and we have our baby. Little Rosie is here and she's perfect, just perfect." They had agreed on names months earlier.
He nodded and in a few minutes calmed sufficiently to lift his head, wipe his face and kiss Elizabeth.
"I love you," she said, "and I'm not going anywhere."
He kissed her again. "I love you," he echoed, his voice still rough. "And our little girl." He kissed Rosalind's cloth-covered head.
After leaving the new family be for another moment, the doctor insisted Rosalind be transferred to William's arms so that they could tend to Elizabeth. William spoke soft words of welcome to his daughter, holding her close so that her newborn eyes could focus on him. She soon drifted off to sleep.
When the medical crew were finished with Elizabeth, the doctor assured William that she had come through it 'like a star'.
Answering her question, Elizabeth said, "I feel fine. A bit of pain still and tired, but great." She looked at her beloved William holding their daughter. "What time is it?" She had no idea.
"Almost 6 AM," someone said.
A few minutes later William was sent to share the news. In the waiting room he found not only Mrs Reynolds and Charles, but also Richard who had been sent by Rebecca (via Sterling). Georgiana had also requested he be there in Rebecca's absence; she was in Edinburgh and had agreed with William and Elizabeth's suggestion that she stay there so as not to miss school. She would come to London as soon as possible once news of the baby reached her (she would travel to London later that day).
When William appeared the three, tired after their overnight vigil, stood and stared at him. They had had regular assurances from various people that Elizabeth was doing well, but naturally were anxious for William's news.
His voice shaking slightly he said, "It's a girl. Elizabeth and I have a daughter and she - both of them - are fine. Everything is fine."
"Oh," Mrs Reynolds said as she stepped towards him to offer a brief embrace.
"That is fantastic!" Charles cried, slapping him on the back. "A little girl!" He could already imagine how much William would dote on her.
"Congratulations," Richard said.
"Elizabeth is well?" Mrs Reynolds asked, wanting further reassurance.
William nodded. "Tired, wanting a cup of tea and in pain, but they gave her something for that."
"I'll go get her some," Richard volunteered. "There's a place downstairs that's open. I need to ring Georgie and Sterling."
"I'd better ring Ed," Charles said. "He and Madeline have been impatient for news. And Alexander." Edmund would let Mary know and through her the Bennets would be informed.
William nodded and Charles and Richard wandered off to where they could use their mobiles. Charles said he'd be back soon and that he'd take Mrs Reynolds back to the house.
When they were alone, William said, "Come." He led Mrs Reynolds to Elizabeth's room. Once there he carefully took a still sleeping Rosalind from Elizabeth's arms and brought her to Mrs Reynolds. Placing her in Mrs Reynolds' arms, he said, "Rosie, this is your Nana."
Mrs Reynolds looked between the baby and the man she still considered 'her boy' and, with a few tears running down her cheeks, said only, "Oh," for the moment too overcome by joy and the honour of her new title (which she hadn't expected) to say more.
William kissed her cheek. "Rosalind Anne."
Mrs Reynolds nodded and smiled down at the baby, gently kissing her head. "She's beautiful," she finally managed to whisper. Looking over at Elizabeth, she said, "Oh my dear girl!" She walked to Elizabeth's side and gave her a kiss on the cheek. She returned Rosie to her mother's arms and excused herself momentarily to blow her nose and then wash her hands before she touched the newborn again.
They had only a moment before Charles knocked on the door. He had Elizabeth's tea, explaining he had sent Richard home. William introduced him to Rosie (who he proclaimed both beautiful and extremely fortunate in her choice of parents) and after quick congratulations to Elizabeth insisted he and Mrs Reynolds leave to give Elizabeth time to rest.
Although Elizabeth wished to go home earlier, she acceded to William's request that she stay in the hospital until the next day; he was able to stay with her and the baby which made it easier for her to agree. Georgiana came by as soon as she arrived in London. She sat and stared at Rosalind, safe in Elizabeth's arms, not knowing what to say and too nervous to hold her when Elizabeth offered after the baby finished nursing and drifted off to sleep. She would have plenty of opportunity to do so, she said, and didn't want to risk waking her up. She didn't stay long, knowing Elizabeth and William, along with Rosalind, needed to rest.
They did go home as early as possible on 24 November, however, William alerting Mr Mallon that he should come collect them. He gushed over a sleeping Rosalind who was bundled up safely and snuggly in her car seat. Mrs Northmore was anxiously waiting to meet 'little Miss Darcy' and, standing with Mrs Reynolds and Georgiana, greeted them when they arrived home. After exclaiming on how precious she was, she bustled off to get Elizabeth some of her favourite tea and to finish making breakfast for them (albeit a late one). Elizabeth insisted on staying downstairs rather than retiring to her rooms knowing several people were expected to stop by.
"I can rest in the sitting room," she assured William. "Rosie's cradle can be brought down although frankly I don't think she'll be out of someone's arms all day."
He agreed and between him, Mrs Reynolds, Mr Mallon and Mrs Northmore saw mother and baby made comfortable. Charles came by to check on them, but didn't stay long.
"I'd love to," he said to William and Elizabeth, "but you need to rest and settle in and take care of my lovely little niece." Regardless of his relationship with Jane, Charles, who in his heart was William's brother, would always be Rosalind's uncle. "Besides, I have some shopping to do!" He smiled mischievously and rubbed his hands together. "It's not only Will who will get to spoil her."
Madeline and Edmund stopped by, also briefly. Rebecca rang and Elizabeth held the phone for her to whisper a few words to her niece along with a promise to visit as soon as possible. She and Sterling would be 'aunt' and 'uncle' to Rosalind as well, just as William referred to Rebecca's parents – really his cousins – by those titles in light of the age disparity involved.
"I can't believe the timing of this blasted cold!" Rebecca wailed. "I want to see you and the baby."
There were other phone calls from family and some friends that were mostly fielded by Mrs Reynolds, Georgiana and William, allowing Elizabeth time to sleep and become accustomed to nursing Rosalind.
The following few days were restful. The house was closed to visitors to allow the new parents time to learn how to care for their baby. They remained upstairs for much of the time, Rosalind's cradle in William and Elizabeth's bedroom, and saw the rest of the household only intermittently.
William spent a great deal of time fussing over Rosalind and Elizabeth. He watched them carefully, hovering over them and needing many, many reassurances from Elizabeth, so much so that he severely tested her patience. Even when mother and baby received excellent reports following a visit by their doctor, he still questioned Elizabeth repeatedly, worried about signs of setback in her recovery, concerned about her level of fatigue, conscious of her emotional well-being as she adjusted to motherhood and so on. Elizabeth often found him studying Rosalind almost obsessively, watching her breathing and taking note of her behaviour and eating. He felt frustrated with himself for being unable to control his anxieties better and for adding to Elizabeth's burden as he knew he was doing. Edmund Gardiner had a long talk with him, sharing his experiences after his children were born. It eased some of William's self-reproach at least to be told many of his worries were common among new fathers. With time and talking he calmed further. Elizabeth helped him remember to enjoy the pleasures of fatherhood as well as the challenges and they spent many long hours watching and playing with Rosalind and taking countless photos.
After several days, Alexander Halsley asked for and was granted permission to call. Elizabeth was feeding Rosalind in the library when he arrived and Mrs Reynolds escorted him in. William sat with his wife and daughter, but rose and accepted Halsley's congratulations. He spoke to Elizabeth, but didn't wish to disturb her so he sat in a chair and chatted quietly with them while he awaited his introduction. Mrs Northmore brought in the tea tray and William jumped up to take it from her. As he was doing so and pouring cups for them all, Rosalind finished her meal. When Elizabeth looked like she was going to get up to bring the baby to Halsley, Mrs Reynolds shooed her down seeing an opportunity to indulge in her new favourite activity - holding Rosalind.
"Come to Nana, little love," she said. She smiled down at the little girl, tickling her chin as she brought him to Halsley.
"Nana, is it?" he said smiling.
She nodded and smiled in return. "I have the very great pleasure of introducing Rosalind Anne Darcy," she said as she placed her into Halsley's waiting arms. In the background, William fussed over Elizabeth, reminding her that she needed to drink more than a cup of tea and offering her something to eat from Mrs Northmore's tray.
"And a very great pleasure it is to meet you," he said softly, smiling at the baby. After a moment he looked at William and Elizabeth. "She's absolutely beautiful. And her eyes! She certainly has her mother's bright eyes." He wondered over her for a few minutes and then said, "Well, you must call me something, little Rosalind Anne, and I have decided that as Agnes gets to be your Nana, I should get to be your Grandpa Alex. I promise to tell you reams of stories about your Grandpa George and to do my best to fill his shoes." His eyes flickered to William and Elizabeth to see if they had any objection to the declaration he had made; they didn't object and were, in truth, very pleased. They wanted their daughter surrounded by people who would love and nurture her; genetic ties were unimportant.
After a few more minutes, and with some reluctance, Halsley surrendered Rosalind to her father. He then took his leave, insisting Mrs Reynolds join him for dinner so that they could discuss their new roles as surrogate grandparents. After assuring herself that William and Elizabeth would be all right without her for the evening, she agreed.
Rosalind met her other grandfather several days later. Rupert had visited Elizabeth and William in London a couple of times since their visit to Longbourn in May. They hadn't been particularly comfortable as Elizabeth still felt a great deal of reluctance to trust him especially as an association with him might mean one with Fanny. Rupert persevered, however, anxious to rebuild his relationship with his favourite daughter. When he asked if he might visit, Elizabeth, still open to the possibility of having her father in her life (and feeling she had to be flexible given his honest attempts to redress some of the errors of his past, particularly in regards to Mary and Catherine) said yes.
He arrived after lunch and the introductions were made. Rupert looked at Elizabeth's daughter and felt a surge of love both for the little person in his arms (William had been reluctant to hand her over) and for Elizabeth.
"She's beautiful; just like her mother," he said. Elizabeth shook her head slightly and excused herself, promising William she would be back momentarily.
Both men watched her leave.
Rupert sighed. "She'll never forgive me, will she?" He wasn't really asking for William's opinion, but he received it anyway.
Rupert turned to look at him.
William shrugged. "Not the way you want at least. You're here; that's something."
"More than you like," Rupert said. He was stating a fact, not arguing.
William didn't immediately reply. Rosalind starting fussing a little and William walked to Rupert and reached for his daughter; Rupert ceded her reluctantly.
After cooing soft words to Rosalind, William answered. "I won't see Elizabeth hurt again; she's had too much of it in her life."
Rupert wanted to argue this, reminding William that he had caused some of Elizabeth's hurt, but he knew that would be unwise and held his tongue.
William continued. "But this is what Elizabeth wants. She sees how much you are doing for Catherine and Mary and takes it as a sign that you have realised the errors you've made and are trying to correct them. The whole process of admitting how…hurt she was by her childhood has changed her though and how she sees people and relationships. She can't go back."
Rupert swallowed. "And your advice?" He felt William had something he wanted to say and even knowing he was not likely to like what he heard, thought he needed to.
"Accept what she gives you, but don't have unrealistic expectations."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because," William said as he watched Rosalind and tried to ease her growing upset, "for some reason Elizabeth does want you in her life, perhaps not as much as you would like, but it seems to matter to her that you are. I don't want you to foul it up by hurting her again. Don't push her for more than she's willing to give. Like today; I think she'd like Rosalind to know you – to know more of her family – but don't try to turn it into some sentimental occasion of reconciliation between the two of you."
They heard the sounds of Elizabeth returning. Before she did, Rupert nodded at William in thanks for his advice. Elizabeth entered and William said he thought Rosalind was hungry. Elizabeth settled down to feed her. Rupert watched as William went to work caring for Elizabeth, being sure she was comfortable and getting her a cup of tea.
The three of them were able to have a polite conversation for a half hour or so as Rosalind fed and then drifted off to sleep in Elizabeth's arms. At that point, Rupert said his goodbyes, once again congratulating William and Elizabeth. He was bold enough to walk to Elizabeth and kiss her on the top of the head, saying he was very happy for her.
Over the weeks that followed, many more people came to visit and to meet little Rosalind Darcy. Rebecca and Sterling finally made it, Rebecca deciding she felt 'non-infectious enough'. Victoria dragged Margaret over to pay their respects (Richard had come earlier, when Georgiana was in town). Many of their friends stopped by as did Catherine and Mary who had to come on different days (and neither for very long) due to school obligations. Georgiana visited when she could, although she too was tied up with school work; she looked forward to spending the holidays with William and Elizabeth and even did some reading on babies so that she might feel more comfortable around Rosie, to whom she wanted to be the best aunt possible.
Jane didn't visit, but she had taken to sending regular email messages to Elizabeth over the past couple of months. They weren't necessarily warm, but after Rosalind was born they did display an honest interest in her well-being. Jane had had little success in bridging the gap between her and Charles and decided to try to repair her relationship with Elizabeth, hoping that if she did, it would help. With so little of interest going on in her life, Jane still clung to the hope that she and Charles would reconcile.
Her efforts with Elizabeth were slow to produce results, to her disappointment. Elizabeth replied, but there was none of the openness that had once marked their relationship. Jane, however, knew that Charles would be a part of Rosalind's life – because of William – and dreamed of their shared niece bringing them together again. Then he would forget the ridiculous divorce nonsense and they could get back what they had. She would readily agree to his wish of distancing them from Longbourn; she was sure she could make Fanny understand. Of course, it had been almost a year and Jane was finding it hard to hold onto her hope. When it failed, her anger re-appeared and fuelled her self-righteous feelings that prolonging the divorce was payback for the cruel way she had been treated.
Recognising she was acting partly out of the emotional highs of new motherhood, Elizabeth suggested they have a family gathering – meaning the Bennets – just before Christmas. William was not pleased with the idea at all when Elizabeth raised it one afternoon when the Gardiners were visiting. Susan and David were down on the ground, little Rosie between them on a soft cushion of blankets. The two older children took turns dangling a toy over their new cousin or reading her baby books while she gurgled and babbled.
"She is very talkative," Edmund remarked referring to Rosalind.
Elizabeth smiled and nodded. William, the proud, protective father, kept his eyes trained on the children, but also nodded. "I don't understand why you want to do this," he said in reaction to Elizabeth's idea.
"I know," she said. "I don't really know either, but it seems…like it is the right thing to do. A lot of time has passed and, I would hope, we have all moved on or have at least learned to get along. Jane appears to want something from me. Rupert is…well, you know." Turning to her uncle, she said, "You've talked to him lately, I know. I just had this idea that a small, short gathering – here, in our home – to bring everyone together to…welcome Rosie, maybe…maybe it's time."
William sighed, furrowed his brow and shook his head.
"I think about Kate and Mary, too," Elizabeth went on.
"Oh, don't say that," William pleaded knowing if she used an argument – to herself or him – that it might make life in the family easier for Mary and Catherine, there would be no question of them taking this potentially disastrous step.
"I can't say I disagree," Madeline said. "With Elizabeth, I mean. If – and I know it is a big if – we could all manage an hour or two in each other's presence, it would lessen a lot of the strain hanging over us and more particularly those trying to have a foot in both camps. But, Liz, my darling, you've just had a baby. Perhaps Edmund and I should host."
Elizabeth shook her head, watching as William went to collect Rosalind; her little face looked ready to crumple into a cry and sure enough just as he reached her, she started. He scooped her up and held her close, her head on his shoulder as he walked around, bouncing slightly. Edmund asked his two children to tidy up the toys and books they had been using to amuse their baby cousin.
"It isn't as though I would have to do anything myself," Elizabeth said to her aunt. "And…I want it to be here." She noticed William studying her keenly. "That way," she said smiling happily at him, "I can have the supreme pleasure of tossing out anyone who dares to be disrespectful."
After more discussion with the Gardiners and then between just William and Elizabeth, a plan was formed. When Elizabeth presented it to Rupert, wanting his input into whether he thought it viable (in other words, that there was a possibility of it going acceptably well), he said he thought it was and promised that he would do what he could to make sure nothing upsetting happened.
The gathering was set for five days before Christmas. William and Elizabeth would be bringing Rosalind to Pemberley for the first time the next day. Mrs Reynolds, who had been visiting once again, returned to the estate before any of the guests were due to arrive. She still had lots of things to prepare for the holidays. The Gardiners, Georgiana and Charles would, once again, be joining William and Elizabeth, and now Rosalind.
The Gardiner family arrived early to be sure they got there ahead of the Bennets. Edmund in particular wanted to be sure Elizabeth was protected from anything his sister might do. Rupert believed Fanny would behave like a reasonable person, but Edmund wasn't as sanguine about her ability to hold her tongue.
Rupert was, undeniably, edgy as he approached the house with Fanny, Lydia and Jane. Catherine and Mary would be arriving separately, spending the night with the Gardiners (and having an early Christmas celebration with them, William and Elizabeth that night) before travelling to Longbourn for the duration of their holidays. He believed Fanny understood that if she wanted any part in Elizabeth's life – no matter how small – she would have to earn it. However Fanny behaved, he would be sure it didn't impact his relationship with Elizabeth and his little granddaughter.
Why would Fanny want any role in her least favourite daughter's life, Rupert and others wondered? The reason was simple. Elizabeth and William were increasingly high profile persons; Elizabeth in particular was making quite a name for herself with her plans for the FDF. Every time she was mentioned in the news or what passed for news, someone around Meryton would gloat over it to Fanny. She remained on the periphery of Meryton society – a position into which she had been unceremoniously dumped since Elizabeth's wedding – and if she had any hope of fixing the situation, it would involve being able to brag about Elizabeth and her wealthy husband. She hadn't entirely given up hope that Jane would win Charles back, but frankly she knew that even if Jane and Charles did reconcile, it wouldn't solve her problem. The other consideration was that Rupert – for whatever reason – still longed for a role in Elizabeth's life; he might be more tolerant of her (and ease the purse strings) if she managed to make nice to their second daughter. She would try to play nice, but really, Elizabeth did like to stir things up so she would have to be extra vigilant, she supposed.
As they reached the townhouse, Fanny tried to school her reaction although her expression gave away her awe. Even she realised the neighbourhood was very exclusive and when Rupert indicated which house was Elizabeth's, she was struck by the realisation as she hadn't been before that her daughter had done very, very well for herself.
"I read that it's listed," Lydia said. "Grade II though. His other one is Grade I, I suppose."
"Yes," Rupert said as he ushered the three women to the front door and rang the bell.
"Jane, you never told me that!" Fanny hissed.
Jane said nothing. She had her own thoughts to think and they revolved primarily around Charles. She hoped, although she had no reason to, that he would be there today. She had spent most of the journey from Longbourn thinking about it and that if he could see her, and see that she was being nice to Elizabeth and William, he would reconsider the separation, he would want her again, and she could have the life she had dreamed of for so long.
The door was opened by a Mr Mallon who greeted them politely. Fanny didn't hear and barely noticed as her coat was taken (Rupert helped her out of it as she was too busy looking around the foyer, her mouth hanging open stupidly, to do it herself).
"The others are gathered in the blue sitting room," Mr Mallon said to Rupert knowing he would know which room he meant. Rupert acknowledged the directions and tried to steer his wife and daughters in the proper direction.
Lydia was busy whispering to Fanny, "What do you think it's worth, Mum? How many millions? And I bet it's filled with priceless treasures, too."
Lydia did like to rile Fanny up; it was a chief sort of amusement these days. Jane scowled at her and hissed her name to which she laughed and shrugged her shoulder. She intended to have a good time and really, with just her family around, the only good time she was likely to have involved poking her mother.
They entered the room to find that everyone was indeed there, including Catherine and Mary. Most of the crowd was around Elizabeth, looking at and talking about baby Rosalind who was being held in her mother's arms; Elizabeth sat on a sofa. The noise ended and everyone silently looked at each other for a long moment. William stood behind Elizabeth's position and studied the newcomers cautiously.
Elizabeth, Edmund and Madeline said a simply 'hello' virtually in unison, breaking the quiet. After this, others spoke as William moved from behind the sofa to welcome their guests.
"Hello Dad," Mary said. "Mum, Lydia. Hello Jane."
Catherine said, "Hello everyone!" She then returned her attention to Rosalind who was clenching her finger and seemed interested in staring at her aunt.
"Kate, Mary," Rupert said, smiling at his two daughter.
"Please come in," Elizabeth said.
Rupert walked further into the room, saying the names of people as he did, acknowledging Madeline, Edmund (with whom he hastily shook hands) and William as he walked over to Elizabeth and Rosalind. Catherine stood to let him sit down. He had a quiet exchange with Elizabeth as William more formally welcomed Fanny and Lydia, managing only to say 'Jane' to the woman who was causing Charles so much frustration by refusing to admit their relationship was over and purposely dragging out the divorce; it was hard for anyone to really understand what drove Jane's actions. She declined any interest in talking about a settlement (something Charles' lawyer believed would help move things along), but also didn't display any vindictiveness or even its opposite which might explain why she was so reluctant to consent to the divorce.
"Please come in," he said. "Make yourselves comfortable."
Lydia was quick to follow his advice. She looked around the room a little, but was soon bored. Noticing the table on which rested a variety of food she hoped she wouldn't have to wait too long before being able to indulge. She imagined William and Elizabeth had a fantastic cook; Catherine and Mary had said as much.
With Lydia's words about priceless treasures in mind, Fanny looked around carefully trying to imagine what might qualify. Her concentrated study had the benefit of keeping her mouth shut for the moment.
Jane quietly took her mother's arm and led her to a seat.
Elizabeth stood with Rosie still in her arms; Rupert stood as she did. William was quickly at her side to make sure she was all right.
"I'm okay," Elizabeth whispered to William, knowing how anxious he was about this visit. "This is my turf." She smiled mischievously, her eyes twinkling.
Rupert looked at William and said, "Rosie's eyes are just like Elizabeth's when she was a baby - she has the same penetrating stare. None of the other girls had it."
Edmund joined them as Rupert was finishing his statement. He said, "The quest for knowledge starts early. It did for Liz; I remember it well. I could talk to her endlessly and she just stared at me, asking for more."
"And if that is what Rosie needs, that's what we'll do," Elizabeth said. "Will, we should introduce Rosie to the others."
He nodded and sighed, trying to hide it so as not to appear impolite. He put a protective hand on Elizabeth's back and they walked over towards where Fanny and Jane were. Rupert trailed behind and Edmund joined them as well.
"Mother, Jane, I'd like to introduce you to Rosalind. Lydia," she added turning to her youngest sister suggesting she join them.
"She looks remarkably like Elizabeth did as a newborn, doesn't she, Fanny?" Rupert said pointedly. Fanny seemed unwilling to do more than look briefly at the baby and nod. She then turned her gaze on William as though trying to size him up for the first time.
"She's adorable, Lizzie," Jane said quietly while keeping a tight rein on her emotions. If asked, she would say that of course she was happy for her sister, but in truth the feeling did not extend to her heart; that was too full of other sentiments. She was also suffering from disappointment; Charles was not there.
Elizabeth gave her sister a tight smile and nodded. It was more than Lydia got; she only received an exasperated sigh when she said, "Babies all look the same to me. They only get interesting when they're older."
Mrs Northmore and Mr Mallon entered the room, bearing trays of tea and coffee and other beverages. William led Elizabeth back to a seat away from her mother and invited everyone to help themselves to some food. Catherine and Madeline took charge of providing beverages; Elizabeth thanked them for doing so.
The next little while passed relatively well. The atmosphere was restrained and uneasy, but polite. After having a snack, Susan and David asked for permission to amuse Rosalind and William saw the three settled in a quiet spot where he could keep an eye on them. The adults made general conversation, primarily at the instigation of Madeline and Edmund, aided by Rupert. Elizabeth was called upon to provide the details of Rosalind's recent visit to the doctor, assuring everyone that the baby was doing 'very well', growing and 'doing all of the things she's supposed to be doing'.
Fanny looked on as this was explained, a sour look on her face. Her perusal of the surroundings was over and she turned her attention to the people in the room. Jane remained by her side – good girl that she was – but was obviously out of spirits. Fanny was not entirely pleased with Jane these days. She longed for a return to the days when Jane had more to offer her and remembered with great fondness the days spent planning Jane's wedding and dreaming of her future with Charles. But Jane was her only source of comfort these days. Lydia had not adjusted well to Rupert's demands regarding school and was largely withdrawn when she was at home, saying repeatedly that she would be out of Longbourn as soon as she finished her programme of study, which would be the following spring. She only remained in school because she had finally believed Rupert and Mary's assertion that she would be able to earn more money with the certificate than without it. Rupert's promise of a substantial financial reward for completing the programme, intended to help her settle in a new place, helped as well. Mary and Catherine were at Longbourn frequently, but they rarely sat with her; Rupert had driven them away from her, just as he had Lydia. Jane at least cared enough to visit and spend time with her mother, as any good child should do. Fanny started to wonder if perhaps they should change tactics with Charles; maybe if he really didn't want Jane any longer (for which she would always blame Elizabeth and that man), Jane should agree to the divorce in exchange for a large settlement. Fanny could think of many things Jane could do with the money (many of which involved her in some way). She was getting on a bit – 33 now – but there was still a chance she could marry again.
Susan called William over, saying that Rosalind was beginning to fuss. He immediately went over and retrieved her, thanking Susan and David for watching her. He held the baby against his chest, her head at his shoulder and began to walk around the room, rubbing her back and making soothing sounds.
Fanny watched him and, to herself, criticised his actions. He knows nothing about babies! For all that he is thinks himself to be so important, in this I am his better. "You're going to spoil her if you do that," Fanny's strident voice pierced the room. "You should just leave her to cry. If you fuss over her, she'll just come to expect it all of the time; run you ragged with her demands." She looked at Elizabeth, her expression accusatory.
William turned to her. "If by spoiling her you mean that she will know, every day of her life, how much she is valued and loved and that she is safe and secure and will never have to doubt how important and special she is, then yes, I fully intend to spoil my daughter – and my wife – and I make no apologies for it." It felt good to say as much to Fanny and William would happily have told her exactly what he thought of her; it would take very little provocation. He was insulted that she dared to criticise him for trying to comfort his four-week old daughter.
"Honestly, Fanny," Edmund said wearily as Rupert sighed and said, "Really, it is so much better when you keep your mouth shut."
As other people started to make their opinion known, Elizabeth stood and walked out of the room. William noticed her.
"I'll be back in a minute," she said and he nodded, although his eyes showed his discomfort.
Elizabeth needed a moment to gather her thoughts and calm down. Her immediate reaction to Fanny's remark was to return it in kind, but that would be giving the woman too much power.
As she had done on other occasions, Jane followed Elizabeth. She said that she was going to check on Elizabeth and, although William was a little suspicious, he didn't immediately follow. Jane had been trying in recent months to bridge the gap between her and Elizabeth and, Elizabeth insisted, she deserved the chance to make amends.
Elizabeth turned to see Jane behind her.
"I came to see if you were all right," Jane said. It was a nice sentiment although her tight voice detracted from it.
Elizabeth hoped her sister's tone related more to the awkwardness of their relationship than to a continued disregard for her well-being. She nodded. "I just needed a moment of quiet."
Jane sighed. "It would be so much easier if he just..."
Elizabeth was immediately on alert. "He?" she questioned, hoping Jane would revise her statement.
"William. If he would just...leave Mum alone, it would be so much easier."
"Leave her alone?" Elizabeth said quietly, inwardly cringing.
"He was so mean to her and she was just offering advice."
"What are you talking about?! She comes into our home and insults his behaviour as a father. She is hardly one to offer parenting advice! What is he supposed to do?"
Jane sighed and shook her head. She should have known Elizabeth would make a to-do about it. "You know it's better to just let her be. He's only making things worse. You both are, just like always. I thought you'd gotten past that..."
"Let her be? Oh of course," Elizabeth said derisively. "We should resist the urge to defend ourselves or to call her on her vitriol. You know she would have said much, much more and worse, given the chance. But, we wouldn't want to poke the mad woman. No Jane. I will not ask William to do that and frankly there has been far too much of that behaviour during our lives."
"Do you want to make things more difficult?" Jane whined. "Do you want to drive more of a wedge into your relationship with her?"
"What relationship? And how can you blame me? Or William? Really? Have you learned nothing Jane? Has losing Charles not finally, at last, made you open your eyes?"
Jane paled at statement of having lost Charles. Elizabeth could see the look of stubborn denial on her face but before Jane could respond, she went on.
"Not that you will admit you've lost him. You won't get him back Jane, if that's what you think, if that's what Fanny has made you believe that by denying him a divorce he'll give up the fight and come back to you. He's not Dad; he wants more from his life than to be stuck in a bad marriage. He wants to be happy and he knows the two of you can't have that. What is it that will make you happy, Jane? Do you even know? Is it this? Being alone, alienating me and everyone around you? Constantly blaming other people when your life isn't perfect? Does it make you feel better about yourself?"
At Elizabeth's words, a light dawned in Jane's mind and she stopped hearing Elizabeth's words. I've lost him; I really have lost him. Of course I have. She hadn't spoken directly to him in almost a year as he had insisted their communications go through lawyers. Any thought of his coming back to her, no matter what she did, were nothing more than futile.
Elizabeth watched the changing expressions on Jane's face for a minute and then sighed. "I had really hoped, Jane, that Fanny could keep her opinions to herself. I won't be at all surprised if we hear that she managed to be insulting to me, William and probably even Rosie in our absence. I tried, but I won't again." There was an implicit warning in her words - there were only so many 'second chances' Elizabeth would extend to anyone and that included Jane.
William joined them. He met Elizabeth's eye and took some comfort in seeing her roll hers and shake her head. Jane, he noticed, looked shaken.
"I think Rosalind is hungry," he said.
"Again?" Elizabeth asked laughing. The baby nursed frequently, but had started to sleep for longer stretches at night as a consequence. She reached for the baby and asked, "What?" She nodded towards the sitting room.
Jane looked at William to hear his response, silently praying Elizabeth had been wrong. He grimaced and shook his head.
"Rupert is taking her away. Lydia as well. Jane, if you are travelling with them..."
She swallowed and nodded her head and, after a long, thoughtful look at her sister, returned to the room to see if she could help with Fanny.
"Will you say goodbye to my father for me?" Elizabeth asked. "I'm going to take Rosie to the kitchen." It would be warm and quiet there and Mrs Northmore could fix her a cup of tea.
William nodded, gave her a kiss and then went to see to it that Fanny Bennet left his house as quickly as possible.
Rupert nodded sadly when William gave him Elizabeth's message. "Tell her I'm sorry. I really thought..."
William nodded. "I'm sure she'll be in touch soon."
In the background, Fanny grumbled to Jane about arrogant men and ungrateful daughters. Rupert shook his head and went to her side to lead her out of the room.
She continued to mutter for some time as the foursome made their way back to Longbourn. She didn't notice that even her dear Jane wasn't listening or responding.
The rest of the afternoon passed much more pleasantly. The Gardiners, Mary and Catherine remained and they had a quiet early Christmas celebration including an early dinner and the exchange of gifts to and from Mary and Catherine. They then left to spend the night at their aunt and uncle's.
Alone that evening Elizabeth and William sat in their sitting room. Rosalind, her tummy filled, was in her cradle peacefully sleeping.
William told her of Rupert's apology.
Elizabeth grunted. "He's not the only one. Kate said she thought Fanny finally realized it would be to her benefit to be on the in with us, so to speak, but she just can't help herself; she just can't keep her mouth shut. Not where I'm concerned at least."
"I'm sorry, love," William said, playing with one of her curls as he had so many times in the past. "I know you hoped..."
The shake of her head stopped his words. "I felt we had to try. I can't see doing it again. I won't expose Rosie to it." William and the others had told her about Fanny's behaviour after she and Jane left the room. It had involved her usual histrionics and exhortations against Elizabeth. "I won't expose her to that kind of negativity. She hardly needs Fanny as a grandmother; she has Agnes and so many other people who adore her."
William nodded and leaned over to kiss her. As he did, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close.
Elizabeth sighed contentedly. "It is so good to be able to do this properly again," she whispered as she rested her head on his shoulder.
"Mmm," he said, very pleased with being able to feel her rest against him again as well. "What happened with Jane?" he asked a few minutes later.
Elizabeth told him. "I'll have to tell Charles, I suppose. I thought I saw a glimmer of understanding in her eyes, but I could be wrong. Perhaps I only saw what I wanted to see."
They continued to sit together, snuggling and talking about their daughter (a favourite topic of conversation) and the upcoming holidays. They would remain at Pemberley until after William's birthday. This year Mrs Reynolds, Charles and Georgiana would stay with them; the Gardiners would leave on Boxing Day to go to Madeline's parents as they had the year before.
When William felt Elizabeth start to fall asleep, he insisted they prepare for bed where he resumed holding her in his arms and luxuriating in their love for each other.
The trip to Pemberley was slow as they stopped several times so that Elizabeth could tend to Rosalind's needs. William found it very stressful, worrying every time she began to cry despite Elizabeth's reassurances. She kept up a happy conversation about the holidays and being at Pemberley and all of the things they could show and do with Rosalind. William longed to introduce his daughter to the estate – to her family's heritage – and anticipated teaching her about it as his father had done with him.
As they entered the grounds, Elizabeth insisted William stop the car where they could have a view of the manor house. It was one of their favourite vistas and one that had been captured in many paintings and photographs over the years. She unstrapped Rosalind from her car seat and took her out, handing her to William who held her under his warm jacket, bundled from the cold.
"This is Pemberley, Rosie," he said. "Your home."
The three of them stood, Elizabeth leaning into William and looking alternately at her baby's precious face, at her beloved William and at their home. He caught her eye and they smiled peacefully at each other, shared a soft kiss and then returned to the car for the last leg of their journey. Mrs Reynolds was waiting for them, and soon Charles, after a stop in Manchester to collect Georgiana, and the Gardiners would be arriving for Christmas.
Life just continued to get better and better.
Chapter 100. Time to leave them be
Posted on 2011-03-05
December the following year
It was a few days before Christmas and Elizabeth and William were again hosting an early celebration in London before they went to Pemberley for the holidays. It was more relaxed and much happier and livelier than the previous year's gathering. The main reason for this was the absence of two people: Fanny who was not invited and Lydia, who, having relocated to Brighton, had no interest in spending time with her family. She had finally escaped Longbourn in the summer and had not returned once; she had rarely even spoken to any of them.
Rupert, the four Gardiners, Jane, Mary and Catherine, along with William and Elizabeth, were sitting and enjoying a pleasant conversation and Mrs Northmore's many Christmas treats (both savoury and sweet). Susan and David were anxiously awaiting Rosalind's appearance. The almost-thirteen-month old was napping. The two Gardiner children were amusing themselves well enough despite the adult-oriented conversation (Uncle Bennet having extracted as much information from them as possible about school and friends and holiday plans), but they did love playing with their wee cousin.
An hour into the gathering, Mrs Northmore appeared in the doorway, a still sleepy Rosalind holding her hand. She immediately pulled her hand from the older woman (who doted on little Miss Rosie as much as any grandmother could) and toddled her way over to Elizabeth who was sitting on a sofa.
"Thank you," Elizabeth said to the housekeeper who smiled after Rosalind and nodded, before retreating. Elizabeth opened her arms to her daughter and, when Rosalind's little legs and unsteady gait brought her to Elizabeth's side, scooped her up in a smooth movement.
Rosalind snuggled into her mother's arms, rested her head on Elizabeth's chest and said a very contented, "Mama," in a soft, immature voice.
Elizabeth held her tightly and kissed Rosalind's head with its soft dusting of hair. For a moment there was no one else in the room for Rosalind or her mother.
"She needs a little bit of wake up time first," Elizabeth said to Susan and David, "and perhaps a snack. After that, I'd bet she'll be very happy to play with you."
"We need our share of her, too!" Rupert said, smiling at his second daughter. There was scattered laughter.
The past year had seen Rupert's relationship with Elizabeth improve. They would never be close, but Elizabeth opened herself to having him in her life and William followed her lead although he would never really forgive Rupert for his past treatment of Elizabeth. He did his best to be a good grandfather to Rosalind the few times a year he saw her (always coming to London to do so – William and Elizabeth refused to return to Longbourn). He also continued to do his best for his other daughters and to tolerate Fanny.
The conversation continued. Madeline asked Jane about work and she told them more about a course she would be starting in the New Year. It was management-oriented and would open up a new direction for her career, one she found quite promising and even exciting.
Jane was still at her job, working for the government on developing early childhood education programmes. After her epiphany the year before she went through a hard time admitting she had lost Charles for good and had, perhaps, lost Elizabeth as well. She couldn't find it in her at first to accept that they (Elizabeth, Charles and William) weren't at fault for the situation, at least to a large degree. Over Christmas and into the New Year she had spoken to Rupert and her sisters and found that it was only Fanny who sympathised with her. Everyone else – including Charlotte to whom she reached out (only to be turned aside when she failed to apologise for her behaviour after the debacle with Lydia and Christopher Lucas) – told her to look inward and to accept her role in what her life had become.
It was very unpleasant, but she had, in part, come to understand. She would never fully accept that other people, chiefly William and Elizabeth and even Charles, had not exacerbated the situation until it was beyond repair, but she did accept that she had lost Charles and that if she wanted any sort of relationship with her sisters (Mary and Catherine as well as Elizabeth), she would have to make some changes.
Early in the year she agreed to a divorce, telling Charles – through his lawyer – that she would no longer contest it and that she would refuse any sort of settlement. He insisted on at least giving her enough to buy a house in the suburb where she worked and she had, after talking to Elizabeth who assured her Charles didn't feel obligated to do so, accepted. Jane's motivation for not pushing for a settlement, despite Fanny's endless advice that she needed to, was really rather simple. She admitted she was not going to get Charles back and realised that if she was going to have any chance with the rest of her family (save Lydia who didn't want any part of her anyway), pushing Charles for money for a marriage that never amounted to much – even though they could have had such a happy ending if only... – was a sure way to antagonise them, especially Elizabeth. And, Jane felt, where Elizabeth (and William) led, Mary, Catherine and Rupert would follow. Yes, Fanny was very displeased with her, but given her mother's lack of options it didn't take very much soothing to get over the worst of it. Fanny did, and would continue to, raise Jane's failure, but Jane was becoming better and better at tuning out the most unpleasant parts of Fanny's speeches.
It was trickier to re-establish a relationship with Elizabeth, but slowly they did. They were not intimate by any means, but they did regularly exchange email messages and celebrate birthdays and other events together and, all in all, Jane became more comfortable with her family. It was hard to be around Elizabeth at times, seeing her happy with William, having her child. It seemed to reinforce to Jane everything that she was lacking and that she had tried so hard to attain.
Jane's 'family' didn't exclude Fanny. She didn't spend as much time with her mother as she had previously, citing a busy work schedule and other demands on her time. She emulated Charlotte by involving herself in various local groups and activities, trying to make new friends having found she had alienated most of her older ones. But she was really the only one Fanny had and what was she to do? She was the good daughter and it wasn't a role she could, or would, easily give up.
Rosalind, having acquired her necessary Mama-time, slid off Elizabeth to go to her beloved Daddy. After standing in front of Elizabeth, Elizabeth's hands on her shoulders until she was steady on her feet, Rosalind kissed her belly and said very clearly, "Baby" before turning to go to William.
Madeline and Edmund smiled to themselves; everyone else's eyes turned to Elizabeth and then William, who looked across at his wife, smiling happily as he also kept an eye on Rosalind's progress as she walked in his direction. When she reached him, he lifted her onto his lap and she settled in to snuggle just as she had done with Elizabeth.
Elizabeth laughed and nodded her head. "Yes, there is indeed a baby growing in there."
There were many calls of congratulations and exchanged hugs and kisses and requests for more details.
"I'm just twelve weeks now, due in mid-July. We had a scan last week and everything looks really good. We explained to Rosie a couple of days ago."
"How are you feeling?" Rupert asked.
"Fine," Elizabeth said. "I went through the usual early pregnancy fun, just as I did with Rosie, but it's largely gone now. It's been clear sailing so far and I am looking forward to an easy second trimester, just like I had last time." She spoke to the room at large, but her eyes were on William. He had fared much better through her difficult periods than he had when she was pregnant with Rosalind, but he had still had moments of panic.
This pregnancy had been a bit of a non-surprise-surprise. William doted on Rosalind and experienced so much joy from being a father. He found it a very anxious endeavour at times (as he had Elizabeth's pregnancy), especially when Rosalind was still a very new baby and he had fussed over her weight gain and development almost obsessively. As much as he loved Rosalind, the thought of purposely having another baby was a bit of a minefield. He knew, in his heart, he could cope with going through the process – pregnancy, labour and delivery and early babyhood – again and he wanted to just as Elizabeth did. Rather than openly discuss it, they became a little sloppy about birth control. It was by no means the best way to handle the situation, but they knew each other and themselves well enough to be comfortable with it. He was very happy Elizabeth was pregnant and very, very happy the rough first trimester was behind him. He also knew they would not do this again; he would take permanent measures to ensure they could enjoy themselves without restraint or fear of pregnancy in the future.
The conversation continued, with discussion about Elizabeth's well-being, holidays, plans for the New Year and many other subjects. It was easy and relaxing and if not quite as lively and loving as other groups – for example, of those who would be gathering for Christmas at Pemberley – it was still very pleasant. William saw that Rosalind had something to eat and then turned her over to her two cousins. He then sat next to Elizabeth, taking her hand in his.
Elizabeth listened and watched, looking around at the family members sitting in her house, some admittedly more loved than others, and thinking about the new life growing inside of her, the past and the future. Her mind wandered and she wondered what the future held for those who had become, truly, her family, sparing a thought as well for those that were, biologically family as well. There were so many questions, so many possible paths they could take, so many unexpected occurrences that could challenge them or enhance their lives in unforeseen ways.
As the party continued around her, she daydreamed, occasionally adding offhanded comments to the conversation, always feeling William's hand in hers. She hoped for health and happiness for them all, but knew life was rarely that easy. In her mind she played with alternatives, considering the personalities involved and the options before them. The years that came proved some of her speculations correct, but by no means all.
A glimpse into the future
Rupert would continue to groom Mary and Catherine to assume responsibility for Longbourn when he could no longer manage. He didn't imagine voluntarily retiring any time soon and in fact wouldn't. He held on to control a little too long, to his daughters' consternation and until Elizabeth – privy to Mary and Catherine's frustrations – hinted that even if he felt physically able to continue to work, he needed to consider them as well. He kept his hand in, advising primarily, until ill health prevented him from doing so. With his spare time, he read and visited his grandchildren in London. He always regretted his relationship with Elizabeth was not closer, but accepted what she was willing to offer, reminding himself repeatedly that it was better than nothing (and even occasionally reminding himself that it was, perhaps, more than he deserved). In later years, once Mary and Catherine found their partners, he enjoyed a livelier family life at Longbourn and in their nearby homes.
Jane would never marry again. Elizabeth had challenged her to think about what would make her happy and she found, upon reflection, that she didn't really know. She developed a new perspective on the dreadful period of her life that saw her lose Charles and the life she wanted and even came to realised that perhaps Charles had played a secondary role in the life she imagined. She thought long and hard about why she had come to such odds with her family. She began to understand her own behaviour and reactions better, particularly her loathing of conflict and began to admit that sometimes conflict was necessary and didn't have to be damaging if it was handled correctly. She still didn't like it though and avoided it as much as possible. In so doing, she continued to struggle with who she was and what would or wouldn't make her happy. Elizabeth tried several times to talk to her about their childhood, but she always strenuously resisted and so Elizabeth gave up. It remained a barrier between them.
Although Jane dated several men at various times, none of them developed into serious relationships. After one year with a very nice man named Robert, she hinted about marriage. He thought about it and then broke up with her. He enjoyed spending time with her, he said, but even after a year didn't feel he knew her well enough to be confident that they would get on well together in a permanent relationship. It had been a hard blow.
She found contentment in her work and in being, she believed, a useful member of her community. She spent time with her family when it seemed appropriate (or when duty called in the case of Fanny) and did a good job in her role as aunt to Elizabeth's children and later Catherine's. She knew she wasn't their favourite aunt and she wasn't anyone's favourite sister, but the family gatherings made a nice change of pace from her day-to-day life. She put on a happy façade, but if she had been honest with herself or others, would have had to admit that 'content' was more accurate way to describe her life.
The next two Bennet sisters would fare better. Mary finished her Master's degree and returned to Longbourn. She lived in the converted guest house and avoided Fanny as much as possible. In so doing, she became more involved in Meryton life, especially at the Bennet family's church, All Saints, and assisting the new pastor when Mr McIngram retired.
Although she understood many of the reasons behind her feelings, it took her a long, long time to trust a man enough to let him get close to her. She met a man named Niall at a trade show; he worked in the public service, based in Hertford. Niall very much liked what he saw in Mary (and she in him, despite her initial reluctance to admit it) and pursued her even when she was very discouraging. He was a good man and Catherine believed her sister would be very happy with him if she would only let herself trust him. Because of this, she intervened and spent a long afternoon talking to Niall about the Bennet family and what she believed was the root of Mary's hesitation. It gave him heart and hope and, while they didn't have an easy path and his patience was tested at times, Mary finally, after a long talk with her older and wiser sister Elizabeth, made a leap of faith. They eloped and then spent a wonderful fortnight at William and Elizabeth's villa in Italy as a honeymoon. They had a good life together and settled in a house partway between Hertford and Longbourn.
Catherine was the only other Bennet sister to have children. She enjoyed being away at school and had an active social life, despite being busy with her classes and part-time job. She dated several young men while at university, but none of the relationships were serious. She was happy to return to Meryton and, although working at Longbourn, took a flat in the centre of town. It allowed her more freedom (and a way to avoid Fanny) and she carved out a place in Meryton society for herself, enjoying the company of her peers.
When she was 28 a man named Phineas opened a law office in Meryton. Originally from a small town in Ireland, he valued the slower pace of life outside a large city, but still wanted to be within close proximity to one. While researching possible locations, he stumbled upon Meryton and discovered that there was a market for a new lawyer as one had recently retired and another one was planning to relocate.
Phineas and Catherine met at the local pub and got along so well that after the first evening in each other's company, during which they almost completely ignored the people they had arrived with, both were confident they had a future together. Within six months they were engaged and six months later they had a joyous wedding, marrying at All Saints and having a reception at Netherfield, just as Jane had done once upon a time. It was a large and lively affair and one of the very few times Elizabeth and William (accompanied by their two children) were in Meryton or saw Fanny. In the years that followed, Phineas and Catherine welcomed three children, all boys.
Fanny was never particularly happy. She wasn't without social contacts (it would be hard to call them friends) in Meryton, but she had lost, in her mind, her central role in the town. Since Jane's wedding and then all of the business with Elizabeth in the society pages, it seemed that her neighbours had turned on her. It was all Connie Lucas' doing - driven by Charlotte who no doubt was coached by Elizabeth herself. It just wasn't fair!
It got so bad at times, usually after 'Miss Lizzie' got herself in the news again that, desperate for contact and for someone to talk to, she turned to Rupert. She could hardly show her face in town without someone stopping to talk about Elizabeth and her husband, and so she remained at Longbourn. Once Lydia left, only she and Rupert were permanent occupants of the house and they were frequently alone at meal times. Over time they learned how to have decent conversations with each other. They spoke about the house, goings on in Meryton and various nothings. It didn't always go smoothly, but all in all it did help to make life a little more pleasant. Fanny had to be careful, which vexed her greatly, as Rupert was quick to anger at the most innocent remarks about their daughters. But if she played it right, he would listen and at least mumble responses when she talked to him.
Her daughters, by and large, failed to provide her with any comfort or bring her any pleasure. Jane at least tried, but after giving up on Charles she never really did anything about which Fanny could get excited. Fanny had virtually no contact with Elizabeth and William after the day she met Rosalind. She wasn't happy about it, but apparently there was no room in Elizabeth's heart for understanding or compassion for her own mother. Fanny might, on occasion, admit her forthrightness was not always to everyone's liking (some people could be so sensitive!), but she was too old to change; it wasn't fair of anyone to expect her to do so, she thought. She felt very ill used and it wasn't a sentiment she would ever let go. The bitterness of it made her company less and less desirable as the years went by and she found herself more and more isolated. She was never able to pull herself out of the slow downward spiral, and even Jane was incapable of getting her to understand that she could make her life better if she tried.
After Rupert's passing, she moved into a retirement community in Hertford instead of staying at Longbourn once Catherine and her family moved in; Mary and Niall choose to stay in their house and leave the family estate to Catherine, thinking the space and grounds would better suit a couple with three active children.
Lydia rarely returned to Longbourn after moving to Brighton. She benefitted from Rupert's sterner hand and carried some of his lessons related to responsibility and working with her. It helped her build a decent career, even if she never was very successful. She approached Elizabeth and William at Rosalind's first birthday for assistance opening her own shop. They quickly determined she had no plan, not even a solid idea (let alone the experience or maturity), and really only hoped to benefit from her rich relations. She was refused and grumbled miserably about it, making it clear that she had only visited them and Rosalind with the expectation that they would be happy to give her money. They had very little contact in future years. Elizabeth would not have turned her away, but Lydia didn't bother contacting her. Jane helped out with gifts of cash now and then and the lectures from Jane were bad enough; from Elizabeth they would have been much worse, she was sure. She never married, preferring to live the carefree life of a single woman and continued to rely on her charms – which amounted to youth, liveliness and willingness – even when the first two faded with the passage of time and the last became much less sought after.
William and Elizabeth would always be close to the Gardiners. Edmund and Alexander Halsley struck up a friendship at William and Elizabeth's wedding that would grow over the years. Edmund and Madeline were also happy to welcome Charles into the Gardiner family sphere, despite his divorce from Jane, based on his closeness to William and Elizabeth. Edmund's friendship benefited him greatly, just as it did William. Several years down the road, when Madeline felt the need for a job change (due to an incompatible new boss), she went to work for Derby Academics in their graphic design department. It made having weekly lunches with Elizabeth that much easier – they simply planned them for one of the days Elizabeth was in the building, doing her work with the FDF.
Susan and David grew up, happy in their roles of big cousins. Elizabeth remained their favourite adult cousin, although she did have to share the title with William. Surrounded by Edmund, William and Charles – with a generous sprinkling of Halsley tossed in as well – David had excellent role models and grew into a fine, caring, hardworking young man. Elizabeth became an extra sounding post for Susan when she needed the perspective of a trusted woman who was not her mother, and although she never needed Elizabeth the way Elizabeth had needed Madeline, they were very close. Susan took Elizabeth and her mother as role models and grew into a confident, strong woman. Edmund and Madeline had every right to be very proud of their children and they were.
Georgiana would never move back to London, much to William's consternation. His disappointment was tempered by seeing how happy Georgiana grew to be in her chosen home. It took a long time for her to heal and she would struggle with depression for the rest of her life, but she learned to recognise the warning signs – aided by her loved ones who kept a close watch on her and pushed her to seek help when they thought she needed it – and managed as well as could be expected. She frequently made the trip to visit William and Elizabeth and her adored niece (and nephew when he arrived) in London and at Pemberley.
She completed her degree in history and joined a local historical society, volunteering with them for many years. When she was almost 30 she met the man she would marry, Benjamin (commonly called Ben). He was from a prominent local family and the two met at fundraiser for the historical society. Having spent seven years going to school and working in Canada, he had recently returned to Edinburgh to visit his family and consider his next move. Meeting Georgiana sealed his fate, and he remained in the city. Their relationship developed slowly, in part due to Georgiana's fears that he would not want to be saddled with someone with depression. Elizabeth helped her find confidence in herself and in Ben and, after two years of dating, Georgiana agreed to marry him. They didn't have children, in large part because she worried excessively about her ability to be a good mother, specifically the impact her illness might have on a child.
Charles would find happiness with Elizabeth's friend Leah, much to the initial surprise of Elizabeth and William (and it caused no little unease). After meeting Leah during Trevor and Adam's first visit to William and Elizabeth, Charles saw her regularly at various social gatherings. They chatted and liked each other well enough, but as both were healing after failed relationships, neither thought of the other as more than a friendly acquaintance. It was only when William and Elizabeth's second baby, a boy they named Nicholas, was born that the two of them first went out on their own. Both had casually dated other people, nothing ever becoming remotely serious. They had been visiting the Bennet-Darcy household and, after taking their leave, decided to grab a quick dinner before heading to their separate flats. It had surprised both of them to find that their feelings had shifted slightly and after that, they met up, just the two of them, periodically, slowly exploring the possibility of being more than friends. Leah was unlike the women Charles had typically been attracted to and in many ways reminded him of Elizabeth. He liked her and, as his heart healed, found that he rather more than liked her. They admitted their friendship had evolved into an attraction, but being very cautious after Jane and Dave, and concerned about the connection to Elizabeth and William, they took their burgeoning relationship slowly and carefully.
Work-wise, Charles would stand by William's side at Derby Academics and at BGD. He worked hard and solidified his place in the community on his own merit as well as through association with Elizabeth and William, becoming an active supporter of several health-related charities. One of his great joys was being uncle to William's children and taking his place in the chosen family unit that formed around William and Elizabeth. In time, he was happy to add his two children to the mix and see them grow up in the midst of a happy, loving, supportive family. He maintained ties with his sister Louisa and her husband Gregory, but saw and spoke to Caroline rarely. She had tried to put on a friendly face for Elizabeth after she and William had been married for about a year. However, she was repeatedly heard gossiping spitefully about Elizabeth behind her back and so her efforts to improve her social standing fell flat. She tried moving to other cities once or twice, but could never feel any place other than London was good enough for her.
Nothing very much would change with the Fitzwilliam family over time. Richard and Georgiana remained close, but he didn't have strong relationships with anyone else in the family. He would continue to do his duty to his mother and work with Sterling, William and Charles on business matters, but that was the extent of it. Victoria likewise took on some of the burden of Margaret to help Rebecca and Sterling, but other than holidays or special celebrations didn't interact much with her siblings or cousins. Margaret continued as she always had – comfortable within her confined circle of like-minded friends. She was polite to Elizabeth in public and ignored her in private. William and Elizabeth responded in kind and didn't let it disturb them.
It was with Rebecca and Sterling that William and Elizabeth would have the closest relationship among the Fitzwilliams. They adopted two children – siblings aged two and a half and one – much to their surprise. Their original intention had been to adopt newborns, but their case worker introduced them to the two girls, Lillian (Lily) and Colleen and they had immediately fallen in love with them. Well, Rebecca had and Sterling, pleased to follow Rebecca's lead in this as he did in so many ways, agreed. It took him very little time to follow suit and give his heart to them. He took to fatherhood not quite as easily as William had, but he found his way and was a good parent. When he was in doubt, he thought about how Philip and Margaret would have acted, and chose a different course or simply asked Elizabeth or William what he should do. Margaret never could accept the two girls as part of her family, but Mrs Reynolds was happy to be their surrogate grandmother. She saw them frequently enough as they often visited Pemberley to play with their Darcy cousins and allow their parents to play together, too.
Rebecca and Elizabeth's relationship grew even closer over time and Elizabeth had with Rebecca what she could have had with Jane. Sterling, William and Charles forged bonds of brotherhood which helped them all as they navigated the sometimes tricky waters of family life. The multi-generational connection between the Fitzwilliams and Darcys, and now Bingleys too, was in secure hands and would persist into the future as the next generation grew and retained close ties of family and friendship.
Mrs Reynolds greatly enjoyed her role as Nana to Rosalind and her little brother once he came along and fulfilled it for many years although she would not live to see William and Elizabeth's first grandchild born. Soon after Rosalind's birth she readily turned over more and more of the estate duties to others so that she could indulge in grandparenthood and regularly visited London, as much as she didn't like being in the city, and kept Pemberley welcoming for those times her boy and his family came home. She loved Elizabeth like a daughter and the feeling was mutual. She and Alexander Halsley would meet when she was in the city to discuss their role as grandparents and they enjoyed renewing their friendship and talking about those they had lost and of the days gone by. It was very comforting for both of them.
In London, Mrs Northmore was happy to stay as the Bennet-Darcy family housekeeper and to take on the role of baby minder as well. She remained with them past the usual age of retirement and even after she moved to the south of England to be near her sister, regularly visited the family (and vice versa). Mr Mallon would likewise remain with William and Elizabeth for the rest of his working life. He and Elizabeth's one-time neighbour maintained their friendship for many years.
The friendships William and Elizabeth began to form after their time apart became very important to them over the years. Michelle and Stephen and Angelina and Matthew in particular were close friends who would regularly visit Pemberley and even Italy with them. Elizabeth's old friends Trevor and Adam always remained frequent visitors, and William and Elizabeth would visit them as well. They were able, with the occasional exception, to spend a week or two together every year in addition to occasional weekend visits when one of them had to travel across the Atlantic for business. There were other friends that came and went and some that were not as close for various reasons (including Elizabeth's friend Lanie in Ireland who she had gone to visit the first Christmas William and Elizabeth knew each other). Elizabeth and Charlotte Lucas would never fully rebuild their friendship, although they remained in touch via email and other means and did occasionally meet up for tea or lunch. Charlotte settled into her life in Hertford and found happiness. It wasn't the life she had once thought she wanted, but it was a good one.
Elizabeth always knew one of the benefits of working at the Fitzwilliam Darcy Foundation would be working with Dani again. Dani had blossomed since starting to work at the FDF and would continue to gain confidence over the years. Their friendship became deeper over time as Dani matured. Another friendship that would continue to evolve was that of Dani and Derek. It came as no surprise to Elizabeth or William when, after several years, the twosome admitted that they were a couple. When they married a year later, two of the happiest celebrants were William and Elizabeth. Dani would remain at the FDF after finishing her degree and, other than time off when she had her babies, she continued to be very happy with her work. Derek, with some little regret, eventually accepted William's assertion that it was time for him to move on from his role as William's assistant. He moved up the corporate ladder at BGD and became very valuable to William in new ways, more than repaying William's early confidence in him.
Elizabeth was pulled back from her reveries by the movement around her. Rupert was standing, saying he, Mary and Catherine needed to get going. Jane took the opportunity to say her farewells, too. After being sure everyone had everything they were supposed to have and a round of goodbye hugs and wishes for a Happy Christmas, they were gone. The four Gardiners remained a little while longer, reviewing plans for the holidays at Pemberley, before also departing.
William, Elizabeth and Rosalind enjoyed the rest of the afternoon together, preparing for their journey northward and playing. The toddler's favourite new game was to play mother to one of her stuffed toys; her parents thought it would be a good way to prepare her for the new baby in the months to come. After getting Rosalind safely tucked into her cot for the night, the couple finished packing for the holidays and had a cup of tea and a long conversation with Mrs Northmore and Mr Mallon as they too, were off to visit their families in the morning.
Upstairs in their rooms, William and Elizabeth prepared to settle down for the night. Elizabeth was finished first and climbed into bed, watching William. Her mind drifted back to her daydreams of the afternoon and her wonderings of the fate of her family and loved ones.
She wondered first about herself. She was very excited about the new project she was working on through the FDF and her plans to tie it to the research work she continued to do at the university. She imagined she would continue to teach one or two classes a year as well since she did enjoy it. Her work for the foreseeable future would focus on environmental education for children, especially those in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, putting Edgar Darcy's legacy and the donations they received as wedding gifts to good use, and more generally on the benefits of urban green space. Her double-pronged approach – research through the university and advocacy through the FDF – would gain her more attention than she could imagine.
In addition to her career, Elizabeth loved motherhood and poured her heart into loving and nurturing Rosalind and would do the same for her new baby. She frequently worried (and would continue to) that she was overcompensating for the mistakes of Rupert and Fanny, but would learn to relax and not judge herself too harshly. Her instincts, as well as William's co-parenting and her ability and willingness to admit when she was overdoing it, kept her from any serious errors and she accepted that every parent and every partner made mistakes. She and William would focus not on the errors, but on forgiving each other and themselves and learning from their mistakes.
Her attention shifted to her beloved William. About his fate she did not need to speculate. She knew what she intended the future to hold in store for him and it was simple – her and all of the happiness and love she could possibly give him.
Her eyes followed him as he walked back and forth, remembering a few last items to pack. Her beautiful, adorable, tenacious, complex William. Her love for him swept through her in a wave that made her breath catch. She didn't know what life had in store for them, and truly didn't want to, but she knew, whatever it was, they would cope with or celebrate it together as the situation required. They had so much joy to look forward to, more than enough to offset any of the challenges that would, naturally, arise. They had each other. Watching Rosalind grow. The new life growing inside of her.
At last he joined her in bed, immediately lying down by her side, propped up on one elbow so that he was looking down on her. He kissed her forehead and rested a hand on her belly.
"How are you feeling, my love?" he asked his voice soft.
"Fine," she said, reaching out to trace the lines of his face with her fingertips. "Other than that bit of queasiness this morning, I've felt okay. I'm very glad to see the end of morning sickness and look forward to enjoying the second trimester just as we did last time." She knew he needed more than just a simple answer.
"Mm, me too," he said. His hand moved from her belly to her hair and he played with a long strand of her curls, twisting it around a finger, releasing it.
"Today was fun."
"Mm," he said by way of agreement.
"And tomorrow we are off to Pemberley."
The thought made William very happy and he smiled and leaned over to give her a gentle kiss.
"It's going to be a wonderful Christmas," she said smiling up at him.
"All of them are when you're by my side." He smoothed her hair and let his hand fall to her waist; a hint of seriousness entered his eyes.
"Which is how they all will be from now on," she said soothingly. They shared a lingering kiss as he sighed and then she went on. "And after Christmas we have Charles' birthday to celebrate and then yours."
"Our two and half year anniversary," William said.
Elizabeth smiled and forced her head up to kiss him. "And then the New Year. We have so much to look forward to."
William smiled and nodded.
"Rosie growing. A new little one."
William took a deep breath, feeling all of Elizabeth's love and the almost overwhelming sense of happiness he experienced when he thought of their life and all that he had, all that he had once been afraid to hope for, all that he had once believed so strongly could never be. His hand moved, almost involuntarily, back to Elizabeth's belly and he had a flash of the time, now not so far off he hoped, when he would get to feel their new baby moving. "I love you," he said, his voice rough with emotion. "I love you so much."
"I love you, my wonderful, wonderful William."
As they lay together, their arms and legs entwined, they spoke of their future, dreaming of their continued journey along the road of happily ever after, and knowing they were well prepared to face the occasional bump or twist.
Nicholas Alexander Darcy was born in the early morning of 20 July. He was happy, healthy and welcomed by his parents' tears, smiles and professions of endless love for him, his big sister Rosalind and for each other.The End