Posted on Monday, 17 February 2003, at 10:46 a.m.
'They crossed the river by a simple bridge, in character with the general air of the scene; the valley, here contracted into a glen, allowed room only for the stream, and a narrow walk amid the rough coppice wood which bordered it. Elizabeth longed to explore its windings.'
Glancing up at the hill, entangled with trees and shrubs, she expressed as much to her companion, surprising him as much as herself. Mr Darcy was prevented from answering by Mr Gardiner's call. The pair turned to speak to him.
'Lizzy, your aunt is feeling quite fatigued. She is not a great walker, and I fear the exercise has tired her. I believe it best that we return to the carriage immediately.'
Elizabeth was about to express her disappointment when she was interrupted by Mr Darcy. 'Sir, if it is agreeable to you and your wife, there is a bench just a little further on. Miss Bennet had expressed a wish to walk in the coppice wood, and I thought I might escort her while you and your wife rest.'
This plan was agreeable to all, especially Mrs Gardiner, and the group carried on walking till they reached the bench. There they parted, with the older couple sitting down and the younger continuing to walk.
Elizabeth apologised for intruding on his privacy, saying that they had thought the family to still be away from home. He broke into her apologies, saying,
'It is no intrusion at all, Miss Bennet. I was meant to arrive with the rest of my party tomorrow, and informed no-one here that I was to be expected early. Do not worry yourself, you are always welcome at Pemberly.'
They walked on in silence for a few moments, Elizabeth in contemplation of the great change that had come over him, and Darcy remembering the sensations that had overtaken him on encountering visitors at Pemberly. She wondered if it was because of her, while he knew it was because of her.
The introspections of both were interrupted by a scratching sound. Both started, and saw a squirrel scamper out of a large, hollow oak tree. To Elizabeth's surprise, Darcy wondered over to the tree and began to inspect it. 'Yes, this is the one.' She threw him a questioning glance, and he elaborated.
'When I was younger, just after my father passed away, I would take lengthy walks in this wood almost daily, to escape from my responsibilities, my guilt and pain. I was so absorbed in my own suffering that I completely forgot that Georgiana had also lost a parent, that she was now also an orphan, although at barely eleven years of age, not at age 22. I had spent the morning attempting to balance the accounts ledgers, and had little success. That day I was so desperate to get out that I neglected to tell anyone I had left, or even to look at the sky first. I must have been out for quite some time, because eventually Georgiana came to look for me. I answered her questions very briefly. Eventually she gave up and began telling me of her day. I was only listening with half an ear, so very little of what she said was absorbed. I was startled when she grabbed my arm and pleaded with me to dance with her. There was a forlorn, lonely expression in her eyes that belonged to eyes thirty years older, and I realised how neglectful of her I had been. How could I not dance with her? We danced around this glade for almost an hour, until it began to rain. The house was too far, and it looked like it would be a short summer shower, so we hid in this old tree for the duration of it. Every time I come to this glade I look at this tree, and try to remind myself of my ever changing responsibilities to her, which I do not always fulfil.'
For the first time in his narrative, Elizabeth glanced up at his countenance, and could see the weight of responsibility, and heartache, there. And at that moment, she knew she loved him.
Before either could say more Mr Gardiner's voice was heard calling them back. Without uttering another sound, merely revelling in their shared understanding, they turned and began to walk towards the Gardiners.
Pemberly, the following summer.
Elizabeth grabbed her parasol and practically ran out the house. The last few weeks had been a nightmare. The six months she had been married had mostly been bliss, but 3 weeks ago that had all changed. Her husband just buried himself in his work, leaving her to seek much unwanted solace in the coppice wood.
The very reason she loved that wood was because it was the place she had first realised that she loved Mr Darcy, her Fitzwilliam. The wood, and this glade in particular, had become a refuge. When they had first returned to Pemberly and wished to avoid the nosy callers, they would bring a picnic lunch to this glade, and eat quietly, content to listen to the river burbling and just be in each other's presence. Before they returned to the house, he would take her hand and they would dance, his slightly off-key humming providing the accompaniment. But no longer. Now he had time for his business, but not for her.
Exhausted from her misery, Elizabeth sank down onto a pile of moss, leaned her back against a tree and promptly fell asleep.
Back at the house, Elizabeth's husband laid down his pen and stretched. He had been cooped up all morning, and needed some exercise. For a moment he thought of visiting his wife's sitting room and inviting her along, but, for no good reason, thought better of it.
He grabbed his hat and stick and strode purposefully out to the coppice wood. The quiet of the trees, and the noise of the brook, always helped soothe his troubled soul.
And troubled it indeed was today. A month ago Elizabeth had come to him with the wonderful news that they were expecting a child. But barely a week after that she had begun to have severe cramps, and had miscarried. In that week he felt as if he had come to know the child, and its loss hit him hard. He did not stop to think what Elizabeth might be feeling, so consumed was he in his grief.
In fact, he was so consumed with his grief that he did not even realise where his feet were taking him. He was not particularly surprised when he found himself about to enter the glade. It had been his and Georgiana's special place, then his and Elizabeth's special place. He breathed a deep sigh, and was startled by a soft female voice almost directly below him.
'Fitzwilliam, dance with me,' murmured Elizabeth in her sleep. His gaze shot down to her sleeping form, hunched over on the ground. For a moment he looked at her, just looked at her. She looked so pale and thin. He had horribly neglected her, he saw that now. He leaned over and gently shook her shoulder.
'Elizabeth, sweetheart.' Her eyes gently fluttered open. 'My darling, would you like to dance?'
Pemberly, 3 summers later.
The Darcys were going on an outing, a point of much excitement to them all. Although it could hardly be called an outing. They were merely going for a picnic to the glade in the coppice wood, which was in easy walking distance from the house.
Wherever they went had to be an easy distance from the house, walking preferred, because a group consisting of a two-year-old and a heavily pregnant woman could hardly be expected to walk far.
Darcy carried the picnic basket while Elizabeth held the hand of their daughter, Anne Katherine. Annie, as she was known, was beyond excited, for this was her first real (that is not in a closed carriage) trip outside since the first snow had fallen. Pemberly certainly provided enough space for her little legs to run, but not nearly enough air for her little lungs.
They reached the glade and Elizabeth began to set out the picnic while Darcy relaxed on the grass and Annie ran around like a little energy ball on legs. Before long Elizabeth called her family to eat, which they all did with gusto.
After lunch it was Elizabeth's turn to relax, which she gratefully did, leaning her aching back against an oak tree. She let her eyes close for just a moment. And just a moment it was, because her peace was interrupted by a cry of 'Daddy, Daddy, look at the tree. It has a big hole in it.' She stuck her head in only to withdraw it almost instantly, having discovered a squirrel therein. After a number of other similar disruptions, Elizabeth's exhaustion overtook her, and she finally closed her eyes and fell asleep.
When she opened them again she was confronted by the sight of Darcy dancing around the glade, with Annie standing on his feet, squealing 'Dance Daddy, dance!' Seeing Elizabeth was awake, Darcy admonished her to 'be quiet because Mommy and the baby are sleeping!'
'As it happens, dearest,' called Elizabeth, 'Mommy was sleeping very happily when baby decided to wake up.' A grimace passed over her features. 'In fact, Baby had decided he wants to see the light of day.' Within a moment Darcy sprung to action, escorting the ladies in his life back to the house.
Later that night Charles Richard Darcy, son and heir to Pemberly, was born, much to the delight of both parents.
One afternoon, about three weeks later, when they were sure both their children were sleeping, Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy embarked on a walk through the coppice wood. For a while they just reflected on their happiness, and their numerous blessings. After some time, with a sparkle in his eye, Darcy asked,
'My dear Mrs Darcy, would you care to dance with me in the coppice wood?'
And dance they did.