wondering how long it took to travel back then?...
A lot, it seems.
Love in acts
angst, rated M, short, sequel to P&P
‘She’s out walking, sir.’
‘Of course she is.’ She is very fond of walking. She looks lovely, her cheeks flush, petticoat smudge, carefree and happy. ‘Did they tell you where she went?’
‘There is a path down the road; it goes all the way to the river.’ Rodgers pointed the way.
‘Send a boy back with our horses, or you take them.’ He ordered his valet already walking the path. Ten minutes later, the man caught up with him panting. ‘Is this the right way?’
‘I believe so. The horses are being watered at the stable. I reckoned we’d be back at the house.’
He nodded, it was good thinking.
They bent a curve on the path and heard laughter. First he identified children. And then he remembered how Heaven sounded like.
Quietly Darcy approached the clearing and saw Elizabeth turning about like a merry-go-round, a little girl hanging from each outstretched arm, smiling and laughing as the other children sang. There were two other ladies teaching the graces for the other girls, a few older ones were playing in pairs around the clearing. The weak sun bounced on her bonnet but was consumed on her mourning dress. She mourned him, their love.
‘Lizzy…’ He whispered. Almost two months, six horrible weeks. She was thinner, undoubtedly suffering from morning sickness and he was not there to help her, to send for her maids and apothecaries or anything that may assist his love on the bearing of their first child. He commanded his brain to command his legs to take one step at a time, his mouth to stop the dryness, his heart to beat in rhythm when suddenly another man arrived close, held her hand and twirled her. The girls giggled as her black skirt inflated like a balloon, she laughed, the man smiled lusting after his wife and his legs made him storm into the clearing, just like Charlotte predicted.
‘Unhand my wife!’ Darcy bellowed, eyes wide with jealousy.
She gasped; the man took a step in front of her, the children stopped in surprised.
‘I said, let go of her.’
‘Who are you?’ The man asked squinting. ‘Do you know this man?’ He twisted to look at Elizabeth.
She nodded, hung her head and stepped aside.
There was silence, heavy and difficult. Long too. Long enough for the women to gather the children and start to leave.
‘Neville.’ The man said. ‘The name is Neville.’ He bowed. ‘What do you want with Miss Elizabeth?’
His eyes were hungry for his wife, his lovely lady as he bowed stiffly. ‘Darcy.’
‘You can go, I’ll deal with him.’ She said quietly and the men weren’t sure with whom she spoke.
‘I won’t leave you alone with these men.’ Neville pointed at the valet who tipped his hat to Elizabeth, she nodded in return. ‘Do you know them?’
‘Yes. This is my husband.’ She sighed, her voice hardening. ‘That is his valet, Rodgers.’
‘Husband?’ Neville leaned his head to a side as if understanding hit him.
‘Soon to be former husband.’
‘Never to be former husband.’ Darcy raised his voice.
There was a stare contest that Neville had no gunpowder to participate, it was plain to see. ‘I’ll wait with the servant, by the tree, in case you need my help.’
‘I can provide anything she may need.’ Darcy’s jaw bones were outlined on his skin as he gritted his teeth. 'She told you to go.’ Finally she was there, mere inches from him.
Neville waited until Elizabeth confirmed with a nod.
Unable to resist, Darcy stretched his arms and reached for her, but she took a step back raising her shoulders and showing him her palms. ‘My love…’
‘What are you doing here, Mr. Darcy?’ She looked up, and the bonnet finally let him see her eyes.
‘What are you doing here without me, Lizzy?’
‘My solicitor talked to you, I know he did. If there is anything left to be discussed, he is authorized to-‘
‘I won’t give you an annulment.’
‘Why would you want it?’
She sighed, hugged her chest and turned her back to him. ‘I can’t make peace with your family.’
‘You are my family, love.’ He hugged her and again, like weeks before, she was a marble statue. ‘You and Georgiana, Fitz, the Matlocks. You are more important, you and our baby.’
‘What baby?’ She took a step away from his arms and turned to face him, her head slightly elevated.
‘I know you are with child.’ He said in a tender voice. ‘It was not wise of you to travel so far. At least I know you came in a good coach, your new one is modern and safe.’
‘I’m not with child.’ She tried to keep free from his arms but he held her again, tighter this time.
His valet also held Neville’s arm shaking his head, there shouldn’t be any interference.
‘I already had my courses twice since I left. I’m not with child.’
He was surprised and disappointed.
‘I’m sorry for not being as responsive as your other women. I’m not with child even after five months of steady sowing.’ He cursed under his breath and released her to run a hand over his hair. ‘Now you can sign the settlement.’
‘Will I need to beg?’ She offered. ‘I can get down on my knees here; just have to send those two away. There won’t be any scandal, mama wouldn’t survive that, Lady Catherine would never give you peace.’
He shook his head.
She turned to the men and waved them off. When they turned and started walking quietly towards the old house, she held her skirts and started to lower down to her knees. Astonished, he held her by the elbows. ‘It’s just traditional surrender, Mr. Darcy. I don’t have much pride left but if yours require that, I can do it.’
‘Stop calling me Mr. Darcy when we're alone. I will never give you an annulment.’ He said slowly lowering his face to align their eyes. ‘I love you too much to live without you.’
‘I can’t live with your fa-‘
‘My family is you. The one we will build.’
‘You have two other- maybe three, three other families to support.’
‘Those are taken care of.’
‘Taken care of, had been from the start.’ He cut her. ‘When one enters that kind of relationship, Lizzy, one knows the risks and the responsibilities it entails - I required exclusivity, they provided safety. Those children were not part of the deal, nevertheless are taken care of; they don’t call me papa or wait for me with their little noses glued to the window.’ She blinked. ‘Believe me, I would never deny assistance but they are not my family.’
‘You made them loving their mamas.’
‘Not love. Safe sex. Their mamas didn’t take enough measures.’
‘You have two children with a one woman you visit regularly.’
‘I visited the children occasionally but it won’t happen again.’ She wiggled free of his hands one more time. ‘It won’t happen ever again, it is crystal clear to all of them. The woman without children is now free to pursue other attachments. The children are to be seen to adulthood with some comfort unless you decide otherwise.’
She widened her eyes. ‘Me?’
‘I ordered them to be prepared and wait your decision.’ He said coldly. ‘Whatever you decide, I’ll agree.’
‘Gracious Lord in Heaven! What is that supposed to mean?’ She asked astonished. ‘That I should order them killed?’ She trembled. ‘Oh no! You want me to bring them to Pemberley and raise them myself?’ Her legs faltered and she staggered towards the river for fresh air but he caught up with her easily and again hugging her from behind, pressed her middle with a little more force than necessary. Her weak stomach gave in and she was suddenly nauseated, incapable of holding the few bites she had had that luncheon.
He untied the ribbon and threw her bonnet behind him, held her as she convulsed, unable to help, feeling both desperate and relieved to finally have her in his arms again. He waited rubbing her back, the awful black gown killing him inside, draped over his arm as if his beguiling wife didn’t fill it, so thin she was.
‘I’m better, you may let go of me.’ She mumbled after those torturous minutes.
‘I will never let go of you, my love.’ He cradled her head and carefully lead her to the river bank to seat on the grass, dampened his handkerchief and gave it her.
She lost minutes reacquainting her eyes to his beauty, his grace in spite of his tall big frame, how big were the bags under his eyes. She missed him as the sun misses the moon, as the sun can never manage to meet the moon she also longed for him. ‘Did you take these arrangements when...’
‘I went after you the morrow, I would have caught up with you that same day if I hadn't returned so late. You had already left London when I arrived at the Gardiners.’ He paused. ‘Your uncle said you would return to me and while I gave you time I sent my secretary to solve any problem that might upset you.’
‘You wouldn't have if it didn't upset me?’ He waited. ‘You would still be visiting the current one until she fooled you or until you decided to take another lover while I craved your company at home.’ He frowned. ‘Or maybe a handsome lady would catch your fancy when I were in confinement...’ She mused no longer seeing him, just the motion of the river. Another onslaught of nausea hit her hard signaling she was unable to deal with what her life had transformed into. ‘Go home, Fitzwilliam, rebuild your live.’ He shook his head but she didn’t see for her vision was blackening. ‘Marry someone who is able to deal with this. Marry Caroline Bingley, for example.’
‘I already chose the one woman I want.’ He took the handkerchief from her weak fingers, washed it on the cold river and gave it back to her. ‘Wet your forehead, love.’
‘Stop calling me love.’ He stared at her. ‘How did you call the other women?’ He shook his head. ‘The one that resembles me, only she is blond. Like Jane.’
He stood and paced. ‘I forbid you to even think-‘
‘How did you call them?’
‘Why do you want me to hurt you?’ He raised his voice in frustration. ‘It was sex, I used their names, they called me whatever the deuce they wanted, I never cared. I never asked for more than exclusivity and discretion, for not sharing one healthy female with other men. If they had children, it was because they wanted to, they considered it profitable. I never visited again once they were with child and the one who has two children fooled me into returning. I don’t care what those children are called, I didn’t plan them, didn’t want them, didn’t make them.’
‘If you never visited when them with child, you wouldn't visit my bedchamber either... You would visit the recent one…’
‘Stop this nonsense.’
‘Yet it happened twice.’ She insisted, eyes lost.
‘I was fooled.’
‘No man is fooled into spilling his seeds.’
‘They were supposed to take measures.’
‘But they didn’t.’
‘Fools; once with a bastard, no other gentleman will risk taking them as lovers. It happened to me and to many others. I was fooled.’
She raised three fingers as her face grew green again.
‘Please, Lizzy, believe me. Let my past go, I can’t efface this- Lizzy!’
He ran with her in his arms, her thin body livid, head and arms dangling. His heart was either beating too fast or stopped in horror for he didn’t feel anything other than despair. ‘Call the apothecary; send for a doctor, now!’ He yelled as he entered Scot Manor not paying his respects to the old lady of the house again. ‘Where is her room, tell me now!’ He roared and there was frenzy.
After her maid brought Elizabeth back with smelling salts that made her fine eyes water, he was sent downstairs while she rested. The apothecary said (again) it was the best he could do, she needed a doctor from the city. Nevertheless, he still suspected she was suffering from a self-imposed illness and in this case, either she convinced herself to heal or she’d better be sent to a resting place.
Darcy wouldn’t hear of his wife committed because of him, insisted on her being with child and sent for all the doctors in Scotland, no matter the cost. He would have posted bail on the parlor waiting for days if necessary but the arrival of Neville and the imminent quarrel started with the accusations of making Elizabeth worse propelled him to the inn where he was staying.
‘I can break his nose, Rodgers.’ Darcy roared as he was being pushed away from the manor. ‘Let me go.’
‘Sir, you may as well break his neck if you return to the house.’ Rodgers held him by the arm. ‘Let’s return to the inn and rest for the night.’
‘She will escape me.’ Darcy groaned miserably.
‘I have her watched.’
His valet nodded. ‘Your money is very persuasive, sir. She won’t go anywhere.’ He let go of Darcy and arranged his coat. ‘Also Lynens, the servant, is waiting for you at the inn. I reckoned you might want to have a word with him.’
‘Indeed.’ Darcy’s nostrils flared.
Definitely not with child.
He heard from her own lady’s maid that evening at the inn after the mistress was asleep. She used laudanum when in big distress, but it had been weeks since the last time, the master proximity made her restless again. She didn’t eat much, her disposition was a mockery from her sunny self, but she was strong and thrived. Her aunt sent thick letters containing others from her family and friends, also Mrs. Collins; she answered some, mostly in notes.
The man servant was still loyal and still close, she was rarely left alone and the master could be assured the gentleman trying his best to court her was wasting his charms.
His wife was being courted.
Wings – Scot Inn
‘The mending of Mrs. Gardiner’s old mourning dresses is a bore, especially because every other week the mistress is thinner.’ She pouted and sipped her ale. ‘The trunks never arrived, I gave specific orders as to what to pack and how. They should have reached us in Kent. Never did.’ She huffed. ‘Her regular dresses called everyone’s attention anyway, especially from gentlemen.’ She boasted.
Both men squinted. One in curiosity, the other in reproach.
‘She does call attention, Lynens. We can’t deny she is handsome.’ Ashton insisted. ‘That lovely yellow dress I pressed for her to wear at dinner the other day, and had to beg her to try it, and it was loose here and here-‘ She pinched her own dress at the shoulder and under her spencer. ‘She was so handsome… Not as much as for dinner at Pemberley, though.’ She bit her lip. ‘Anyway, Mr. Neville couldn’t take his eyes off her, the footman said.’ She beamed.
‘He couldn’t, huh?’
‘Be quiet, Ashton.’
‘Lynens! Don’t you dare to talk to me in that tone!’ She huffed. ‘After all I’ve been covering for you!’
‘Quiet, girl.’ The man servant blushed.
‘He has been visiting countless bedchambers since we started this absurd journey.’ She babbled. ‘I hate to travel like a regular maid. I was trained to be a fine lady’s maid, and a good one! Now I have to take care of everything besides the mistress’ towels and linens at inns, her laundry, mending. And, oh, how much mending is there to-‘
‘She has been ill and courted at the same time.’ Rodgers cut the babbling.
‘Not courted.’ Lynens interfered. ‘Mr. Neville is just… interested. Mrs. Darcy is a fine lady, smart and outspoken; he lives with his mama in a small society. He’s bound to be enraptured.’
‘Enraptured by Pemberley’s mistress.’ Rodgers snorted thanking Heavens for Mr. Darcy's lack of patience. He had left as soon as he gathered information he thought necessary and it was Rodgers’ duty to discover more. ‘Letters?’
‘Few, mostly from her aunt.’ The maid said defiantly.
‘Few letters from her aunt that perhaps contains another letters inside?’ Remembering the ‘thick letter’ she received when with the Collins, he pressed for details, the girl hammed and hawed, the man servant looked the other way.
‘She answers with small notes.’
Lynens sighed audibly and finished his ale in one single big gulp.
‘Mmm?’ Ashton asked distractedly and Lynens perked by Rodgers' expression.
‘No one knows she's here.’ The valet mused, the maid swallowed and averted her eyes to the man servant who shook his head at her reproachfully. ‘Yet she received letters.’
‘From her dear aunt...’ Ashton shrugged.
‘Yes, the aunt who lives in London sends her mail probably addressed to Pemberley or at least to Darcy house in Governor’s square. I ask, how these letters reach Cheapside?’
‘Errr, mmm, well…’
‘Shut it, Ashton.’
‘Mr. Darcy will find out who at Pemberley is more loyal to her than to him.’
‘He should be grateful that everybody likes her so much already!’ Nervous, Ashton raised her voice.
‘We were all expecting a very different mistress, if you remember, Rodgers.’ Lynens raised his brows nodding. ‘Never someone so... Kind.’
‘I remember you two terrified when I brought you to Hertfordshire.’ He snorted.
They fell silent, the inn patrons noisily enjoyed their evening talking and occasionally singing until Lynens felt compelled to defend Elizabeth. ‘She has been sad, doesn’t say much about herself. Also asked us no to say much either.’
Ashton rolled her eyes. ‘I have to pretend I’m not a French trained lady’s maid. She insists in helping me, braiding her own hair; she says before her marriage she shared a single maid with all her sisters!’
Rodgers thought about ordering another ale for the girl considering if it would make her sleepy or even more talkative. ‘That’s right. There is still only one maid for the two unmarried sisters and Mrs. Bennett.’
‘Good Lord! That’s why she does what she does!’
‘And what is that?’
‘She made him ride in the coach with us!’ Ashton pointed at Lynens.
Rodgers almost choked on his ale. ‘You didn’t.’
Lynens shook his head. ‘Damned fight it was.’
‘It poured and she made the coach stop and ordered him inside.’ Ashton giggled. ‘He was wet to the core.’
‘What else?’ Rodgers asked and Lynens exchanged glances with Ashton.
‘She sent for her solicitor.’
Lynens shook his head and huffed.
‘Tell me about Neville.’ Rodgers asked as if silently exchanging favors.
The very next day Darcy arrived early at Scot Manor, but Elizabeth didn’t leave her chambers.
Neither the following.
The third day of silent anguished staring at the small manor’s window, after inconclusive doctors’ opinions; she used the servants’ stairs to leave the house by the kitchen. It wasn’t deliberately done to escape Darcy; she usually did it that way. A fresh cup of tea directly from the stove, a scone, a smile for the cook and it felt like Longbourn again. Except that when she stepped on the door to let the sun shine on her face, Rodgers greeted her.
‘Morning, madam.’ A bow.
‘Morning Mr. Rodgers. Guard duties?’
‘Tea, madam.’ He raised his empty cup.
She nodded and nibbled the scone. ‘I suppose you’ll rattle on me if I go for a walk.’
‘I can make you company.’
‘I’d rather go alone.’
‘I’m afraid I won’t be persuaded to be quiet then.’
She sighed. ‘Loyal to the bone.’
‘As much as Lynens and Ashton, madam.’
‘I suppose.’ She muted pretending to nibble the scone. ‘Why won’t he go, Rodgers?’
‘He has nowhere else to be, madam.’
She nodded and stared at the sky. ‘Did you serve him at the ladies’ houses?’ She asked straight faced, the valet tried to hide his horror but failed. ‘How did he manage to retie that complicated cravat knot you do after…’ The man kept silent. ‘Never mind.’ She lowered the cup and dumped half the scone in it. ‘Loyalty requires a side to pick.’ She rested the cup on the cupboard, got her bonnet from the board and adjusted on her head. ‘Shall we go?’
The man was as loyal as a good servant. Walking a few steps behind her, only his shadow gave way his presence. She didn’t say anything; he didn’t answer anything in return.
Wings – Path to Scot river
Rodgers was appalled. Even a little enraged. Affronted. Chagrinned.
The subject was already touchy; imagine talk about it with his master’s bride. Ha! With any woman, much less Pemberley’s mistress!
A gentleman never commented on such practices with his servants, not even his personal secretary. The… particulars of such a liaison were to be kept secret. Imagine talking about this with anyone, with a woman, Mr. Darcy’s lady. The best employer Rodgers had ever had, who he served since early manhood, who he saw fall in love and pine and rejoice for this woman.
Imagine if Mr. Darcy heard him talking about it with her?
Imagine if he had to tell Mr. Darcy he talked to her about it? For a moment he even feared she would ask about riding coats or those oils… By gad, the woman was feisty!
The man was highly protective of his bride, had been since the engagement was acknowledged. He had asked his Aunt Matlock, a fine lady indeed, to find the former Miss Elizabeth a maid fit to help her step into the role of his wife, had sent Rodgers in person to fetch the girl and bring her to Longbourn on the eve of the nuptials with a big trousseau of frocks and garments the talkative silly babbled about.
Since that eve also there was to be a man servant to watch over Miss Elizabeth, to do her binding, chores, anything she needed when he was not by her side. And he mostly was, Mr. Darcy had been intent on her with all his heart.
He was a man of principles and strict rules. Miss Elizabeth was an uncharacteristic choice for him, Rodgers had thought. Watching her walk in front of him, her steady and fast strides – even if short – he considered what may have come upon his master.
She was handsome, yes. Lively, yes but not any longer. Smart, yes. Brazen, oh yes, how so. Maybe that was it.
His former master, when Rodgers was a young valet, was a man of debauchery who frequented inns, lady’s parlors, his lady’s chambers, maids’ quarters, anywhere a skirt was offered. It was ghastly at times to witness the consequences but it was never his role to give opinions. When the man announced his moving to France, Rodgers saw his chance to change jobs. A quick enquire on the gentlemen’s club got him the indication of a new lad freshly out of Oxford, his own father searched for a valet to serve his heir.
Mr. Darcy wanted a spy, Rodgers refused to pay that service and that was the point he secured his job. Mrs. Darcy had one thing right: Loyalty requires a side to pick. He picked the son.
Money could buy loyalty at first, but it were the years that forged a strong bond. It was this bond that entrusted him to the master and when Darcy needed someone discreet to search for his wife without raising unwanted attention from her vulgar family in Longbourn and Meryton, it was Rodgers who he sent.
Now, he concentrated on the road and his master’s wife’s shadow to resist from admiring her figure inside the hideous mourning dress. She was very thin but stillhandsome enough if one had leave to admire.
The man, Neville, he had.
His master surely did. But the lady wasted time thinking about his recreational wrenches.
Women… Rodgers shook his head.
Her maid was a pretty girl. Thin, cute face, ladylike manners. Unless she was upset and worried, then she talked too much, too fast, too many silliness. It was usual for a valet to wed the lady’s maid; it was comfortable, easy, but in his case, nothing more than a tumble would happen. Lord, how much the girl talked!
Mrs. Darcy sighed and Rodgers noticed she sniffed. She was crying!... Good Lord, no. What should he do?
In haste he extended her his handkerchief and she turned smiling shyly showing him her own pressed against her nose. She wasn’t crying, she was just broken, sad. She pointed the other road and he nodded pressing a smile.
Then sun filtered by her bonnet made her look lovely, he thought.
As they approached the house almost two hours later, she turned her head to finally say something. ‘Tell him to go, Mr. Rodgers.’
‘Tell him yourself, madam.’ The valet pointed ahead and she saw Darcy towering over the front door, his arms crossed over his chest, frown in place. On seeing his wife, he strode to her and in no time he was extending a thick letter to her.
‘I can’t deal with any of that.’ She turned and entered the house using the kitchen refusing to get the letter.
The next morning, at her usual hour, it wasn’t Rodgers but the man servant who accompanied her. ‘Am I to believe I’m under watch?’ She raised an eyebrow in jest. ‘Weren’t we friends, Lynens?’
‘Masters’ orders, ma’am.’
‘Ah, so you returned to taking his orders over mine, have you?’
‘He can be persuasive, ma’am.’ He scratched his neck.
She chuckled humorlessly.
Upon her return, her solicitor was waiting for her. Darcy accepted to talk, he said, but it had to be face to face with her. The ordeal would come to an end. She wanted that, she needed that. It was necessary to remind herself it was necessary.
a revised & extended version of this story will be available on Kindle Unlimited from Jan 25th, 17.