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Dearest Anne Book 2 Chapter 8

October 27, 2020 02:40PM
Chapter Eight

The only person surprised at their early arrival home was the butler. The Darcys had retired to their suite some time ago. Facing the prospect of carrying the burden of this distressing news till morning, the Colonel asked that a decanter of port be sent up to him. He kissed Georgiana good night, and with a heavy heart, plodded up the stairs. He would get precious little sleep tonight.

The next morning, he rose wearily, and deliberately waited until the family was almost through with breakfast before joining them. He could not see himself sitting between his cousins having to pretend that all was well. Instead, he hovered at the top of the stairs listening to the familiar sounds and rhythms of the household, trying to determine when it would be best to make his entrance.

“Richard, here you are! Come and have some coffee. Georgie was just telling us that you felt poorly last night. Are you feeling somewhat recovered?” asked Darcy, motioning to his cousin’s usual place at the table.

“I am much recovered, thank you, Darcy. I find that I still get these spells of nausea now and again… but they pass quickly enough. Sorry to be late for breakfast.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Richard,” said Elizabeth with concern. “You should have slept in and called for a tray.”

“No, no, I must get to the Admiralty this morning and have some other appointments in the afternoon … but I would like to speak to you, Darcy, before I leave.”

“Well then, get yourself some breakfast and we can talk while you eat.”

“I’d prefer to have some coffee in the library if you don’t mind. Are you ready?” Colonel Fitzwilliam stood awkwardly by his cousin’s chair, leaving him no choice but to rise.

A bit puzzled, but more than willing to oblige, Darcy left the table with a bemused grin to the ladies. “I will come to the nursery to kiss you all good-bye before I leave for my meeting with Sutherton,” he said as he turned and followed the Colonel out of the breakfast room.

***


The door to the nursery was suddenly and violently flung open and in its wake stood Fitzwilliam Darcy, his eyes almost savage in their intensity, searching for his wife. When he spotted her, he simply stared, momentarily fixed like some otherworldly spirit.

From his expression, Elizabeth knew that the confidence had been broken, and holding out her hand to prevent him from coming upon them too suddenly, exclaimed, “You’ll frighten the baby, Fitzwilliam. I am coming to you directly.”

She handed Edward to Nanny Henderson and clasping her husband’s hand as she came to the door, pulled him out and towards their private suite of rooms. Once in their bedroom, she turned to face him with trepidation, for it had been impossible to decipher the wild look in his eyes. The longer she gazed at him, however, the more convinced she became that it was fear and desperation she saw — not anger. She finally allowed herself to breathe.

As if suddenly coming to life again, Darcy sprang forward and firmly grasped his wife’s shoulders in his powerful hands. He shook her for a moment, with no intention of hurting her, but with every intention of having her attend to his words. “Elizabeth, you must tell me at once what is wrong? What does Fennimore say is ailing you? You need not spare me! How am I to help you, to comfort you if you keep me in the dark? We are man and wife, for G-d’s sake. Why have you kept this from me?”

Elizabeth gasped, and on recovering her breath, tried to speak. Her voice quavered. “Fitzwilliam, my love, be calmed. There is nothing wrong with me. I am well, perfectly well…and Doctor Fennimore will confirm it. I do not visit him for my health…I…I…” Taking his face in her hands she kissed him again and again, murmuring, “You needn’t be frightened; I am well, Fitzwilliam, I am well.”

Darcy allowed his head to sink onto his wife’s shoulder and wrapped himself around her so tightly that she could barely breathe. She could feel his heart pounding against hers — feel his pulse racing. After a few moments, he drew her out at arms length and looked at her in utter bewilderment.

“Then why on earth do you go to see him? You’ve been visiting him on a weekly basis, I understand. Am I wrong? Have I been misinformed?” he asked, shaking his head in disbelief as he spoke.

“No, you are correct. I – that is, I did — for some time.” Elizabeth paused; her breath had become even shakier. “I know this will be difficult to understand, Fitzwilliam, but I cannot tell you my reasons for going there. I am bound by a promise I was forced to make, but now wish to honor until I am absolved of it. I beg you not to press me. Please, please, have faith in my good intensions and my love for this family. You know I would do nothing to hurt you or risk our happiness.”

He stared at her incredulously.

“Let me understand this, Elizabeth,” he began softly, measuring his tone and expression. “For the past few months you have been visiting, solely on your own, the residence of an unmarried gentleman on a weekly basis. You keep this completely hidden from me, pretending instead, to be spending time with your aunt Gardiner. And now you wish me to accept this incredible story without question? …without pressing you further? Have you gone mad, Elizabeth?” he now bellowed, anger and terror in his eyes.

“I know it is asking a great deal of you, Fitzwilliam, and you must know that it breaks my heart to have to ask it of you, but…”

“But… but what?” he interjected crossly. “This person’s confidence comes before your husband’s well being? This confidence is worth the ruin of your reputation, the dishonor of this family? Good G-d, Elizabeth, what has happened to you? You have cut me to the core and you stand there behaving as if it is nothing at all!”

“That is not true!” she cried, rushing to embrace him, but he pushed her arms away and took a step back, distancing himself from her.

“I know this is possibly the most trying situation a married couple can find themselves in, but I had hoped that our trust in one another could withstand it — especially since I will be free to tell you everything in a few short months.”

“A few short months?” he roared. “You expect me to live with this for months without any hint of what it is about? What can you be thinking, Elizabeth?”

“I was thinking about the promises we made to each other at Braemar, in the garden the day we realized that we had both suffered so unnecessarily because of our misunderstandings. We said that we would not allow outside forces to influence us, that we would trust each above all others and never doubt our devotion to one another? Those fine promises have never been tested…till now, and I beg you to think on them and to trust me, no matter the circumstances.”

She saw his eyes soften and heard the slow release of breath from his nostrils…though his teeth remained clenched and his countenance grave. “It is easy for you to ask it when it is I who am being tested, Elizabeth,” he said softly, “…and it is you who have shown yourself disloyal to the spirit of that pledge.” Yet despite his bitter words, all the fight had gone out of him, it seemed, and he stood before her, his eyes pleading for her to relieve his misery.

It nearly broke her heart to see him thus, but she had been expecting this confrontation for some time now and had prepared herself a little. She had played every possible variation of this scene dozens and dozens of times before in her mind and had resolved to break her vow to Anne if it proved too painful for Fitzwilliam to bear. At the same time, however, she had realized that it would take him time to digest it and to sort out his true feelings about it. Therefore, she ought not to reveal her secret too hastily. She determined to hold firm for at least a day, and to observe him most carefully. Her heart would tell her what to do.

“Do you not think this is painful for me, as well? Do you think me devoid of all feeling?” she said softly. “These past months have been both a privilege and a torture…which you will only understand once the secret is divulged,” she added hastily, as her husband opened his mouth to respond. “In the meantime, I beg you to think on what I have said and to give yourself time to reflect. Since you are promised a full explanation some months from now, I don’t think it is asking too much for you to wait till then. It is simply a matter of trust, Fitzwilliam.”

“I don’t know that I can live with it gnawing at me, Elizabeth. It is difficult to push something of this magnitude out of one’s mind. Besides, if it is as innocent as you say, why in heaven’s name can you not tell me what it is?” he now bellowed, pacing about the room.

“I have given my word, and the person involved believes that great damage will be done if the secret is revealed too early. That is all I can say. Now, I would like to spend a little time with Edward before his morning nap. Won’t you join me?”

Darcy turned to stare out the window, his hands clasped firmly behind his back. “I’ll be in shortly,” he murmured.

***


They spent a painfully stressful day, avoiding each other’s eyes, while blatantly observing each other’s every mood and movement. Darcy took himself off to his club in the afternoon, while Elizabeth spent most of her day close to her child. She needed Edward’s sweet, unconditional love to calm and comfort her. Perhaps, she thought, her husband’s heart would soften in the privacy of their bed tonight, whereas in the light of day, it could not. And then a frightful dread found its way into her thoughts and she pushed the image away, pressing Edward to her even closer.

Dinner was a silent and solemn affair as Richard had intentionally invited Georgiana out to dine. The Darcy’s picked at their meal, casting furtive glances at one another from time to time, each one lost in their own inner dialogue. When she could stand the silence no longer, Elizabeth rose and said softly, “Shall we have our tea and port sent up to us, Fitzwilliam. We can make ourselves more comfortable upstairs.”

“Do you intend to use your feminine wiles to charm me into blind submission then?” he said sarcastically, avoiding her eyes.

Elizabeth swallowed with difficulty. Did he really mean that? Was that cruel remark an indication of his true feelings towards her now? She decided to suppress the hurt and do whatever was necessary to change his mood. “I would…if I thought my husband would enjoy it,” she murmured.”

He gave her the gift of his full attention now, his gaze penetrating hers with such longing. “You must know how much I yearn to find comfort in your arms, Elizabeth — for you to reassure me that all is well and as it used to be. But then Fennimore’s image invades my mind and I see him as a great wall between us. Why is it that he has the privilege of knowing a secret that I, your husband, am denied? I wish to G-d I had never met him! Then, at least, I would not know what a handsome man he is.”

“You cannot possibly believe that I have been unfaithful to you, Fitzwilliam?…or that I could have an interest in any man but you? That is ludicrous! Why would I have given you his address and encouraged you to meet him if that were true?”

She searched his face for a response and when he remained unmoved, she exclaimed bitterly,” As you are obviously wallowing in self-pity and will not listen to reason, I will leave you to enjoy your misery, Fitzwilliam. I am going to bed.” And with that she stormed out of the room.

***


After a few rounds of billiards — accompanied by the frequent muttering of obscenities, oaths, and bitter recriminations against his wife — as well as himself, Fitzwilliam Darcy made his way up to his bedchamber. Somewhere between the sixteenth and seventeenth step, however, a dreadful anxiety overcame him and he took the rest of the steps three at a time to hasten his progress. When he entered and gratefully saw her asleep in their bed, the tightly knotted nerves at the back of his neck loosened a bit and he sighed. He undressed quickly, washed minimally and slid in beside her.

Elizabeth, Elizabeth, my love. Why will you not relieve me? Why will you not confide in me and end this suffering? You cannot love another! It is unthinkable…then why do you put his needs before mine? he thought. He lay quietly listening to her steady breathing, wishing she would awaken and tell him all he needed to know.

In time, Elizabeth did stir, made aware of her husband’s presence by the increasing warmth of the bed and the steady hissssss of the air being forced from his nostrils. Whenever Fitzwilliam was angry or disturbed, the sound of his breathing became louder, more apparent — a reliable barometer of his emotions. My poor, darling husband…she thought. I cannot bear to see you so unhappy!

With every intention of bringing this painful situation to an end, she reached out to stroke the fine, dark hairs that peeked from the top of his linen nightshirt — only to have her hand forcefully removed and cast aside, like some discarded object. She gasped inwardly, not wishing him to see or hear her distress, and turning away from him, buried her face in her pillow.

Her husband, too, turned his back, his resentment smoldering, his mind secretly raging at her for inflicting this torment. But then he heard the almost inaudible sound of a muffled sob and felt the slight shaking of her body, and his bitter resolve began to melt away.

What had he done? What was he thinking? This was Elizabeth he was rejecting — his Elizabeth…the love of his life, the mother of his children—his very happiness! How could he rebuff her loving advances? Indeed, how could he suspect her of anything improper? No wife could be more loyal, more loving, more deserving of his trust than she. She had asked for his faith in her and he had refused to give it. His pride had undone him once again! For all the strides he had made, it seemed he was still not worthy of her. He turned and tentatively reached out for her.

Her body tensed as the mattress responded to his shifting weight. She felt the touch of his hand on the base of her neck, the warmth of his lips moving across her shoulder. “Forgive me,” he murmured tenderly. “I’ve been a fool to doubt you. Forgive me, please my love. I cannot bear this distance between us.”

Her response was immediate. She turned to him with tear-filled eyes, but with a smile as wide as the love she felt for him. She encircled him with her arms and drew him to her. “Thank you, Fitzwilliam, my love, thank you. Believe me, we shall joke about this one day, and I hope that you will be as proud of me then, as I am of you now.”

***


At breakfast the next morning, Colonel Fitzwilliam was surprised by the truly calm and affectionate aura surrounding his beloved cousins. He could not tell which one of them had given in to the demands of the other, but he was genuinely glad that they had come to an understanding. He was astonished however, at Darcy’s sudden announcement at the end of the meal that the family would be leaving for Pemberley as early as the next morning.

Obviously, it was a decision he had come to on his own, as all the other members of the family were as surprised as he.

“This soon, Fitzwilliam?” said Georgiana, gaping at him. “That gives me no time at all to take leave of my friends. It isn’t even enough time to pack!”

“The servants have been informed and are packing as we speak,” said her brother rather matter-of-factly. “Mrs. Reynolds and several of the town servants left for Pemberley an hour ago, so all will be ready for our arrival. You can spend the day visiting, if you like, and may invite anyone you wish to come and stay with us in Derbyshire. I, for one, cannot wait to get back to the country — and now that Edward is walking, my darling boy must certainly be ready for the open fields and fresh air of home.”

Here he grinned affectionately at his wife and squeezed her hand, expecting her to be as pleased as he. Quite the contrary, she became pale and agitated.

“We cannot leave town, Fitzwilliam. It is not in the best interest of the family. We must stay for a few more months…please, do not do this, do not force us to go,” she murmured.

Everyone stared. Darcy’s nostrils flared, the air being forced from them clearly audible.

“And I suppose you are not at liberty to tell us why that may be,” he said with some restraint, though obviously irritated.

“No, I cannot. You know I cannot. I thought this was all settled; I thought you understood,” she said pleadingly.

Georgiana, having been protected until now from the tension existing between her brother and his wife, sat gaping at them. Fear filled her heart.

“What I understand is that I have a dear and devoted wife, who has been coerced into keeping a monumental and damaging confidence. Be that as it may, I have accepted the need to be patient and understanding, and am prepared to do so. But I refuse to have this person’s needs dictate the comings and goings of this entire family and to remain in a place that makes it convenient for him to…”

“Fitzwilliam, please!” shouted Elizabeth, rising from her seat in anger. “This is uncalled for and completely unworthy of you!”

He, too, rose, towering over her, making it perfectly clear that he was not to be gainsaid. He managed, however, to modulate his voice when he retorted, “Elizabeth, “my son and I leave for Pemberley tomorrow morning. I sincerely hope his mother will be there to join us.” He threw his napkin down on his plate and left the table.

***


From her private bedchamber, where she was packing her intimate apparel, Elizabeth could hear her husband’s early arrival home. She had not expected him before dinner, and it was now only four o’clock. He was making such an awful ruckus, she could not imagine what was upsetting him now, and shaking her head at his immature behavior, continued with her task. No doubt, he would be bursting in at any moment and letting her know what the excitement was all about. She did not even turn to look at him when he did.

She could feel him standing behind her for a long uncomfortable moment, then felt his arms encircle her as he took the silk chemise from her hand and laid it on the bed. His warm breath caressed her ear as he whispered, “thank you, my love,” before turning her towards him. His anguished face stunned her.

“Sadly, our bitter words were for naught, Elizabeth; there has been a sudden change in plans. We are going nowhere. I’ve just learned that Anne has fled Rosings and has been missing for many months now. Imagine Lady Catherine’s keeping this from the family! What inconceivable stupidity and pride! G-d only knows how we shall find Anne after all this time. She must either be so well hidden or…” his voice faltered. “We must find her… we must … and pray it is not too late!” he said, his voice trembling pitifully. “I have neglected her and failed her yet again, Elizabeth.”
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Dearest Anne Book 2 Chapter 8

Gaby A.October 27, 2020 02:40PM

Re: Dearest Anne Book 2 Chapter 8

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